Accueil Discipline (Histoire) Revue Numéro Article

Revue d'Histoire des Sciences Humaines

2001/2 (no 5)

  • Pages : 214
  • ISBN : 2859396632
  • DOI : 10.3917/rhsh.005.0171
  • Éditeur : Ed. Sc. Humaines

Article précédent Pages 171 - 196 Article suivant

« In the summer of 1897, Freud undertook his most heroic feat – a psychoanalysis of his own unconscious. It is hard for us nowadays to imagine how momentous this achievement was, that difficulty being the fate of most pioneering exploits. Yet the uniqueness of the feat remains. Once done it is done forever. For no one again can be the first to explore those depths » [1]   Jones, 1953, 319. [1] . This depiction of Freud as the heroic discoverer of the dark continent of the unconscious was published in the first volume of Ernest Jones’s biography in the 1950s. It is tempting for a critical historian to perceive this self-analysis as a mere hagiographic invention. The suspicion may stem from the manner in which this singular event is staged. In Jones’s book, every chapter indicates in its heading the exact period of time it covers ; the only exception being the chapter devoted to Freud’s self-analysis. This section mentions just the initial date and leaves the final date blank, stressing both the « unfinished » and « incomplete » character of this exceptional analysis. The self-analysis is thus presented as a truly revolutionary and fundamental event : as an event creating history, without being historically datable [2]  This framing of the self-analysis as an « endless beginning »... [2] .


Jones’s hero-making version would be one of many others to come [3]  Earlier versions of this text were presented at the... [3] . During the 1950s, Didier Anzieu wrote and published the first book-length study on the topic. In contrast to Jones, Anzieu [4]   Anzieu, 1959 ; 1986. [4] tried to establish a detailed reconstruction of Freud’s self-analysis and the parallel writing of The Interpretation of Dreams. Although a second character was introduced – Wilhelm Fliess as the Big Other – the narration of the self-analysis turned into a family story and thus remained an extended chapter of Freud’s biography. Most of the psychoanalytic literature after Jones and Anzieu takes for granted that Freud’s self-analysis was triggered by a personal reaction to his father’s death, guided by the author’s own acknowledgment in the preface to the second edition of his book. In this preface, Freud declared that The Interpretation of Dreams was « a portion of my own self-analysis, my reaction to my father’s death – that is to say, to the most important event, the most poignant loss, of a man’s life » [5]   Freud, 1900b, xxvi. [5] .


The endorsement of Freud’s personal view of his self-analysis, be it on the side of those who sustained its inherent heroism [6]   Eissler, 1971, 279. [6] or in the opposite camp of those critical historians who tried to dismantle this « myth of the hero » [7]   Sulloway, 1979 (1992). [7] , has hindered a historical understanding of its technical significance, especially in relation to other contemporary techniques of self-observation in academic or clinical psychologies. From Freud’s usage in his letters to his friend Wilhelm Fliess and in the first version of The Interpretation of Dreams, it is evident that the term « self-analysis » dœs not denote a singular event, but a specific introspective procedure developed at a time when self-observation was still acknowledged as the chief practice from which psychological facts were to be gained [8]  According to William James, « introspective observation... [8] . In the original version of the book, the introduction of the term « self-analysis » (Selbstanalyse) occurs in the chapter about « The Method of Interpreting Dreams » and is used interchangeably with « self-observation » :


« No doubt I shall be met by doubts of the trustworthiness of ’self-analyses’ of this kind ; and I shall be told that they leave the door open to arbitrary conclusions. In my judgment, the situation is in fact more favourable in the case of self-observation than in that of other people ; at all events we may make the experiment and see how far self-analysis takes us with the interpretation of dreams » [9]   Freud, 1900b, 105. It should be noted that the notion... [9] .


Thus, in the first edition of the book, « self-analysis » refers to a new scientific technique proposed by Freud to his readers, whereas the second edition (1908) performs a reversal and casts the book as a part of the author’s personal history [10]  When this remarkable shift is placed in its concrete... [10] . In what follows, I do not intend to explore this contradictory relationship between Freud’s self-analysis and his book, or the transitions between autobiographical and scientific genres in its text. My task is rather to provide a historical frame for the first version of the dreambook by setting it in the clinical cultures of self-observation in the last decade of the 19th century. Despite the various discussions and re-interpretations of Freud’s self-analysis, it is striking that no comprehensive studies have yet been undertaken on this topic [11]  Only a few historians of psychoanalysis have so far... [11] .


During the nineteenth century, various modes of self-observation were cultivated, both in scientific milieus and in the everyday life of the literate classes, leading to the genesis of new forms for writing about subjectivity [12]  There is an abundant literature on autobiographical... [12] . It must be noted, however, that the initial version of Freud’s book – as it was published in the fall of 1899 – was to a large extent directed at a very special audience, namely professionals who worked towards a scientific psychology grounded upon pathological observation and experimentation. This intention is expressed in the opening sentence of Freud’s short introduction (Vorbemerkung) to the first edition : « I have attempted in this volume to give an account of the interpretation of dreams ; and in doing so I have not, I believe, trespassed beyond the sphere of interest covered by neuropathology » [13]   Freud, 1900b, xxiii. [13] . Given that the professional readers who were guided by an interest in a psychology founded on neuropathological practice regarded introspection as a problematic and doubtful method, this hesitant style of opening the book dœs not come as a surprise. Freud himself received his initial training as a neuropathologist in a clinical culture where the preferred method of experimentation was the induction of hypnotic states in patients and the subsequent observation of their symptoms or actions. Experimental hypnotism as practiced at the Paris hospital La Salpêtrière by Jean-Martin Charcot and his students during the 1870s and 1880s stood in sharp contrast to procedures of self-observation required by the psychoanalytic method as presented in The Interpretation of Dreams. In fact, Freud’s assertion that « the situation is in fact more favourable in the case of self-observation than in that of other people » [14]   Ibid., 105. [14] seems to constitute a complete break from former practices which he employed as a hypnotist, following first the lead of Charcot and then of his opponent Hippolyte Bernheim, in collaboration with his Viennese colleague Josef Breuer.


In the following, I will give a different account of the introduction of Freud’s self-analysis by placing it in the context of the medical culture of hypnotism in the 1890s. My argument is that in order to understand the specificity of Freud’s new technique, one must recover the missing link between the hypnotism of the French doctors and the introspective procedures of psychoanalysis. As a shorthand term denoting this link, I propose introspective hypnotism.


I shall proceed in three steps. In the first part, I will provide a description of introspective hypnotism – an episode which has passed unnoticed in the historiography of psychoanalysis and experimental psychology. The most influential psychiatrists and brain scientists who propagated the use of hypnotic techniques in clinical practice (Auguste Forel, Eugen Bleuler, Oskar Vogt) in Germany and Switzerland during the 1890s attempted to make introspection an integral part of hypnotic techniques. Introducing self-observation into hypnotism responded to one of the crucial problems encountered by those medical professionals : how to obtain a reliable report on what happens in the experimental subject under hypnosis. In order to redefine the subject for a proper hypnotic experiment, the doctors made use of a rhetoric of confession which Freud later elaborated in his Interpretation of Dreams. In the second section, I will turn from the rhetoric of the reported self-observations to the procedures themselves by contrasting two different strategies for transforming psychotherapeutic methods favouring introspection into an experimental program. While introspective hypnotists like Oskar Vogt attempted to transform the consulting room into a psychological laboratory, Freud’s self-analytic technique employed strategies that detached it from a concrete location in which the patient’s mental state could be controlled. These strategies of an « experimentalism without laboratory » involved reading and writing practices. On the level of transmission of the new technique, it meant to make The Interpretation of Dreams into a space where the conflicts between the reader and the author could be played out. In the third section, I will discuss the problems encountered by early professional readers (like Bleuler) who were sympathetic to Freud’s work, but had also been trained in the culture of introspective hypnotism. The demise of the configuration in which reading and writing practices were essential components of psycho-analytic technique was triggered by Freud’s failure to transform these readers into Freudians.

I - Introspective Hypnotism in Clinical Practice

« […] Car tout psychologiste est obligé de faire l’aveu même de ses faiblesses s’il croit par là jeter du jour sur quelque problème obscur […] ».

Joseph Delbœuf, Le sommeil et les rêves (1885).

We have come to think of hypnotism, experimental psychology and psychoanalysis as distinct projects with their own histories. The historiography promoted by the adherents of institutionalized schools or disciplines has largely neglected the overlap and connections between these fields. Only during the last decade have historical and epistemological studies tried to challenge this artificial division, mostly from perspectives which focus on the « construction » or « invention » of experimental subjects [15]  For a history of hypnotism and experimental psychology... [15] . The approach I follow here is also indebted to such studies, which aim at restoring the often messy genealogies of the subjects constituted in various micro-settings such as the laboratory, the hospital, or the consulting room.


As Danziger [16]   Danziger, 1990, 49 f. [16] has noted, the style of recruiting and producing « subjects » in the hypnotic experiments performed in French clinics from the 1870s on was entirely different from the introspective procedures advocated by the German psychologists working in university laboratories. For the French representatives of hypnotism like Jean-Martin Charcot, observation, not introspection, of patients was the royal road to a new experimental psychology. The procedures of hypnotic suggestion were thus promoted as a counter-model to the psychological experiments conducted in academic sites, the model being Wilhelm Wundt’s laboratory at the University of Leipzig. Danziger argues that the definition of a « good subject » relied in both sites on diverging forms of social order : in Paris, the asymmetry between patient and doctor was crucial for the former to be a « good subject ». In Charcot’s clinic, reliable subjects were defined by extraordinary pathological states which could be observed and measured by medical experts. The subject (usually a hysterical female patient) had to be brought into a « state of subjection » and her actions were described in a mechanistic vocabulary : she seemed to be entirely reduced to her automatic functions, her « machine animale », and was treated in a way analogous to a frog in a physiological experiment (except that her belly was not cut) [17]  It should be remembered that the experimental program... [17] . In contrast, the ideal Wundtian subject was a healthy normal person (usually a male academic peer or student), trained in introspective techniques, which implied that he was able to report his experiences in a reliable form. Therefore, he had to be endowed with the faculties of « attention » and « judgment », both absent from the hypnotic state of the Parisian subjects. Hence, when hypnotism started to be introduced into German-speaking countries as a method of psychological experimentation in its own right, Wundt launched fierce attacks against it [18]   Wundt, 1893. [18] .


In order to understand the stakes of this debate, we must rethink the polarity Danziger has described between the academic laboratory psychology in Germany and the clinical experimental psychology in France. In fact, what is taken to be the « model of the clinical experiment » in French hypnotism [19]   Danziger, 1990, 52 f. [19] , reveals itself to be more diversified and heterogeneous [20]  There are various accounts of the diversity of the... [20] . The most influential advocates of hypnotism in Germany, Austria and Switzerland in the 1880s and 1890s were not followers of Charcot, but rather of his opponent Hippolyte Bernheim of Nancy. One of the salient features of the clinical experiments with hypnotic suggestion conducted at Nancy was their claim to destroy any necessary connection between a specific neuropathological culture and the production of psychological facts that the Salpêtrière school had tried to establish in Paris. According to Bernheim’s definition, a mere « verbal affirmation », an « order », was sufficient to bring anybody into a hypnotic state. Hence, the production of such states was not restricted to a rare group of patients and did not depend on a sophisticated laboratory setting where material agents were used, but could be applied to any kind of people. Bernheim argued against Charcot and his adherents that the extraordinary power of the physician in a hypnotic experiment could be explained entirely by the belief (the « suggestibilité » or « crédivité ») of the subject and not by a special pathological disposition that could be influenced by material agents [21]  For a sociological analysis of the controversy between... [21] .


This strategy of invoking the subject’s power of « imagination » in order to question the causal effects of the magnet on his/her nervous system echœd the attempts of the scientific commissioners to repudiate mesmerism in Paris during the 1780s [22]   Cf. Chertok, Stengers, 1989, 15-37 ; Schaffer, 1992,... [22] . But a century later, the implications and practical consequences of this new trial were quite different ones. The movement of hypnotism which credited Bernheim with having « refuted » Charcot promoted a new experimental psychology that would be able to rival the laboratories of German psychologists. The foremost spokesman of this movement was the Swiss psychiatrist and brain scientist Auguste Forel (1848-1931), who founded the Zeitschrift für Hypnotismus, Suggestionstherapie, Suggestionslehre und verwandte psychologische Forschungen. When edited by his disciple Oskar Vogt (1870-1959) [23]  Oskar Vogt, who later became a famous brain anatomist... [23] , this journal turned into a forum for the promotion of his own theoretical and political views about hypnosis. In the period between 1889 and 1899, Forel and Vogt were among these doctors who most strongly advocated introspective hypnotism as an experimental procedure. In 1889 Forel published his manual on hypnotism which went into many editions during the next two decades. Its first edition was mostly intended as a propaganda pamphlet for the School of Nancy [24]  The English translation of the first edition of Forel’s... [24] . Forel fully endorsed Bernheim’s claim that the procedures of hypnotic suggestion were not to be restricted to a small number of hysterics as in Charcot’s experiments, but that they could be extended to virtually everyone : « Suggestibility is a trait to be found in every healthy human brain » [25]   Forel, 1889, 88. [25] . Since introspection, hypnotism, and brain research were tightly linked for Forel and his followers, the observation of what happened in a hypnotized person’s brain was of high importance [26]  The attempt to establish an experimental psychology... [26] . In order to demonstrate the mechanisms of unconscious brain activity, Forel inserted the reports of « two hypnotized hypnotists » [27]   Forel, 1889, 81 f. [27] at the end of his manual, one being himself : the other, the psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler (1857-1939) with whom he had experimented [28]  It is not clear when Bleuler was initiated into hypnotism,... [28] .


The doctors’ strategy of reporting their self-observations during a hypnotic state aimed to redefine what it meant to be a « good subject » for the experimental study of unconscious phenomena. The subject did not have to be regarded as a mere automaton, a puppet in the hands of the hypnotist, but rather as a moral subject whose critical faculties were still active, although to a lesser degree. A major problem with this redefinition was that the patients’ retrospective reports about what they had experienced under hypnosis were contradictory. In his first publication on hypnotism, Bleuler noted that « the psychic state of the hypnotized subjects is still entirely unclear. Even introspection dœs not offer a lot of clarification. Some subjects claim they have not been asleep, and they believe they have obeyed the orders of the experimenter only in order to please him » [29]   Bleuler, 1887, 701. [29] . This problem had already been raised by Bernheim and sharpened by the Belgian philosopher Joseph Delbœuf [30]   Delbœuf, 1886 ; 1889. [30] , whose criticisms of the hypnotic experiments performed in Paris and Nancy relied heavily on introspective accounts by patients and self-trained hypnotists like himself. Bleuler’s own report of his experiences under hypnosis thus promised to dispel the uncertainty surrounding the phenomena created by suggestion and put the doctor into a privileged epistemic position with regard to the patient.


The psychiatrist notes that he « was quite willing to become hypnotized, but attempted during the hypnosis to back out of the majority of the suggestions in order to learn the power of the latter and their influence » [31]   Bleuler, 1889, 76. [31] . The various suggestions which were given by Forel and another colleague brought about the array of phenomena commonly observed in hypnotized patients : catalepsy, anesthesia, and hallucinations. Bleuler also stressed that he had experienced the feeling of just pleasing the doctor as introspective patients had reported : « I had the feeling on several occasions of giving in in order to please the hypnotist. But since by staying calm and collected in such cases, I could still attempt to resist, while I was carrying out the suggestion, the uselessness of these attempts convinced me of the incorrectness of my views » [32]   Ibid., 77. [32] . Thus in his report, Bleuler could constantly switch roles : after slipping into the role of the patient and observing his feelings, he asserted with the voice of the medical expert that the patient was not a liar, but rather did not possess the qualities of a good self-observer. Hence the doctor’s introspective report claimed epistemic superiority over that of the patient. Bleuler’s report closed with the plea that more « educated persons » should publish their self-observations in order to elucidate the « subjective symptoms » occurring under hypnosis [33]   Bleuler, 1889, 77. [33] .


In order to redefine the subject for psychological experimentation, Forel and his followers extended their self-observations to their everyday lives and started recording their dreams. The introspective hypnotists could build on older studies of dreams which had burgeoned throughout the 19th century [34]  For dream research before Freud, cf. Saussure (1926)... [34] , but they also added new components. They claimed that there was a close analogy between various phenomena observed in hypnotized persons (especially hallucinations) and some distinct characteristics of dreams : « The three typical characteristics of the dream existence are, at the same time, the criteria of hypnotic consciousness. They are : hallucinations of perception, exaggerated feeling and reflex actions of the same, and dissociation of the organic logical associations » [35]   Forel, 1889, 21 f., cited in Forel, 1906, 84. [35] . The two other peculiarities of dream life which Forel added in a later edition of his manual also corresponded to the phenomena frequently observed in hypnotized subjects : the transformation of sensory perceptions into visual illusions or allegories and « the ethical and aesthetic defect » of the dream content. « The dreamer is frequently a coward and behaves badly. In a dream the best person can commit murder, steal, be unfaithful, and lie, and remain thereby quite calm, or at most feel more fear than remorse » [36]   Forel, 1895, cited in Forel, 1906, 86. [36] .


The link between dreams and psychic phenomena triggered by suggestion had its ground in physiological theorizing that postulated the identity of hypnotic states and sleep [37]  The widely used concept of « inhibition » (Hemmung)... [37] . The procedures of inducing hypnosis thus necessarily entailed the step of first creating a semblance of sleep. If the subjects accepted the idea that they were asleep, this was the first indication that they had entered a hypnotic state. The increasing number of dream reports that appeared in successive editions of Forel’s manual did not serve any other purpose than that of rendering this analogy between sleep and hypnosis more plausible : « Subjectively we only know (i.e. the association of the reflections of our waking consciousness knows) our sleep through the memories of our dreams » [38]   Forel, 1895, 51. [38] . The collection of dream reports was inserted as an illustration of the thesis that the way of reasoning both in dreams and in hypnosis was the same, both states being qualified as particular forms of « dissociation » of the subject’s psyche.


In their reports of self-observations and dreams, the doctors made extensive use of a rhetoric of confession. The effects of hypnosis were not merely described in a physiological vocabulary, as an inability to move or to speak, but were also followed by detailed accounts of the author’s feelings, especially feelings of anxiety concerning the loss of control. In his retrospective report of an auto-hypnosis, Forel (1889) described not only how he had passed inadvertently into a cataleptic state during his afternoon nap in the hospital in which « partial dreams » and auditory hallucinations occurred, but also the « desperate efforts » to wake himself up and the ensuing fear to fall asleep again [39]  In the third edition of his manual, Forel even added... [39] . The report of an auto-hypnosis thus revealed a contradictory form of establishing authorship : on the one hand, the subjective staging of the fear undermined the stance required from the impassive cold-blooded observer ; but on the other hand, confessing this weakness was the guarantee for the learned reader that the reported events were real, because only a strong emotion was believed to leave a durable trace in the subject’s brain. In the retrospective account of auto-hypnosis, it is paradoxically a performance of weakness which strengthens the author’s authority [40]  The exposition of his weak brain also takes center... [40] .


A non-medical observer of the cultures of hypnotism, the Belgian philosopher Joseph Delbœuf, had already resorted to such intricate stagings of the observer’s subjectivity, most prominently in his book Le sommeil et les rêves (1885). He had even come to define the ethics of the self-observer via a rhetoric of confession, when he asserted every psychologist to be « under the obligation to confess even his own weaknesses, if he thinks that it may throw light upon some obscure problem » [41]   Delbœuf, 1885 (1993), 39. Forel was in extensive correspondence... [41] . In a medical context, the coupling of this epistemological imperative with the exhibition of the self-observer’s weakness led to forms of writing which reflected the tensions and ambiguities occurring in the interaction between doctor and patient. The contradictory performance of authority corresponded to many of the reported situations in which the doctors claimed to be in a state of dissociation. The hypnotized doctor usually portrayed himself in the professional context of the hospital or the private clinical practice, unable to perform his duties. In some cases, the consequences for the patient were fatal. Oskar Vogt reports an episode in which he failed to get out of bed when he was called to see a severely ill patient : « A few years ago, I was woken up at night by the father of a child who had again become severely ill. I raised, opened the window, spoke to the father who told me that the child was dying, and promised to come to his house instantly. Despite doing this, I went to bed again and continued sleeping. The next day, I went to see the child at the usual time, found the door closed and learnt from the neighbours to my great surprise that it had died. No memories of what had happened during the last night occurred. In the evening, I came to see the parents. The father received me in a very unpleasant manner. As a reason for his unpleasant behaviour, he told me the aforementioned story » [42]   Vogt, 1895-1896, 32. [42] .


How common this narrative strategy was can be inferred from Wundt’s retort to the self-observations and dreams published by the introspective hypnotists [43]   Wundt, 1893. [43] . According to Wundt, the only possible validation of the hypotheses about unconscious mental life could be achieved through self-observations of a trained subject. But the very combination of the awareness required for an attentive observation of one’s own mind and the partial amnesia occurring after hypnosis seemed to make any testing of the procedure inconceivable [44]   Ibid., 29. [44] . Consequently, Wundt based his entire refutation of hypnotism on a retrospective report of a somnambulistic trance dating back to his time as a medical assistant in Heidelberg in 1855. In his text, he described at length how he was called to a patient who needed a tranquilizer during the night. In a state that Wundt characterized as « dreamlike » [45]   Ibid., 31. [45] , he reported to have given her, instead of the needed opium, a portion of iodine. The fact that the patient spit out the medication and refused to swallow the rest of it surprised him, but did not make him aware of the fallacy. « Only when I was again back to my room, I suddenly became conscious of what had happened ; I was fully awake and realized instantly that I had acted in a sort of somnambulistic state. Frightened by the thought that the patient could have been harmed, I woke the other assistant, reported the incident in the early morning to our professor and only regained my calm, when it became evident that my fears were unfounded. Since the sorrow of those days left such a deep impression on me, the incidents of that night have been recorded in my memory with rare truthfulness, so that I still believe to remember quite clearly my state of consciousness in this somnambulistic doze » [46]   Ibid., 32. [46] .


The story told by Wundt follows exactly the same pattern as the stories told by Forel, Vogt, and other introspective hypnotists except for one trait : all the reported events could be translated into his own psychological theory which had no room for the hypothesis of the "unconscious". Since Wundt regarded the hypnotic condition as one variant of "abnormal states" that could be triggered by the application of drugs or other modifications of sense impressions, but not systematically regulated in the further process, he classified hypnotism under the category of « observational and not experimental psychology » [47]   Ibid., 72 f. [47] . Thus, the clinic as a site of psychological experimentation was sent into the past. Wundt’s reminiscence about his scientific beginnings in a medical context served no other purpose except to deny that any forms of self-observation from a pathological context were true experiments [48]  In this sense, Wundt’s autobiographical report reflects... [48] .


We may now raise the question about the relationship between the introspective hypnotists and Freud in 1896 when he was working out the technique which he finally termed « psychoanalysis ». By August 1888, Freud had clearly chosen to become an adherent of the views spread by the School of Nancy, mostly for strategic reasons. In a letter to his friend Wilhelm Fliess, he justified his translation of Bernheim’s book on suggestion with the remark that he wanted « to have a hand in a matter that surely will deeply influence the practice of neuropathologists in the next years » [49]  Letter from Freud to Fliess, August 29, 1888, in Freud... [49] . Another important strategic move in this respect was Freud’s positive review of Forel’s manual on hypnotism [50]   Freud, 1889. [50] in which he surprisingly did not mention the final section where the introspective accounts of Forel and Bleuler were included. When the first volume of the Zeitschrift für Hypnotismus appeared in 1892, Freud contributed a short case history and was among the international collective of doctors who formed the editorial board. Although the explicit references to the various works published by Forel, Bleuler and Vogt became extremely rare during the next years, it can be assumed that Freud followed the further developments of the journal and that he also studied the revised editions of Forel’s manual [51]  The only hints about Freud’s reception of the work... [51] .


In The Interpretation of Dreams, a number of dream reports exhibit features similar to those in the examples published by Forel, Vogt or Wundt. In the chapter where Freud tries to provide further evidence for his theory of the dream as a wish-fulfillment, he cites as an example of « dreams of convenience » the dream of a medical student who fails to get out of bed [52]   Freud, 1900b, 125. [52] . The report of this dream dates back to March 1895 when he wrote to Fliess about his latest scientific findings : « Rudi Kaufmann, a very intelligent nephew of Breuer’s and also a medical man, is a late riser. He has his maidservant wake him, and then is very reluctant to obey her. One morning she woke him again, and since he did not want to listen to her, called him by his name, "Mr. Rudi". Thereupon the sleeper hallucinated a hospital chart (compare the Rudolfinerhaus) with the name "Rudolf Kaufmann" on it and said to himself, "So R.K. is already in the hospital ; then I do not need to go there", and went on sleeping ! » [53]  Letter from Freud to Fliess, March 4, 1895, in Freud... [53] . Like the introspective hypnotists, Freud upheld the analogy between dreams and hallucinations (as they occurred under hypnosis). Hence he referred Fliess to the « dream psychosis » of their common patient Emma Eckstein which he later included into the same section of his book [54]   Freud, 1900b, 125. In the commentary to the German... [54] .


These dreams which came out of the clinical practice were linked in The Interpretation of Dreams to those of the medical self-observer who stood in as the model of « an approximatively normal person » [55]   Freud, 1900b, 105. [55] . Thus, Freud stressed that « dreams of convenience like these were very frequent in my youth » [56]   Ibid., 125. [56] . However, they lacked the trait which became prominent in Freud’s own self-analysis : the intricate staging of the author’s failure, and the detailed exposition of his own feelings in a rhetoric of confession. The exemplification of these traits was provided by the famous dream of « Irma’s injection » which served as the specimen dream for the method of interpretation. Freud introduced this dream analysis with its various « indiscretions » with Delbœuf’s imperative for the psychological self-observer [57]   Ibid., 105. [57] . As we have seen, in the rhetoric of medical self-observers who proposed new psychological theories, staging the weakness of the author was a key element. Thus Freud shared with the introspective hypnotists a special genre that was developed in a clinical context, and had made the persona of the failing medical expert acceptable [58]  The further proliferation of this sort of writing can... [58] .

II - Experimentalism With and Without A Laboratory

« Eine Suggestion : Du wirst dieses Buch lesen, auch wenn Du Dich dagegen sträubst. Und je mehr Du Dich dagegen sträubst, desto rascher wirst Du diesem Bann verfallen sein ».

Hans Schmidkunz, Der Hypnotismus in gemeinfasslicher Darstellung (1892) [59]  « A suggestion : You will read this book, even if you... [59]

The collusion between the introspective hypnotists and Freud on the level of rhetoric indicates the common ground from which the respective projects to create new scientific psychologies started : the private practice of the neuropathologist. The similarities, however, should not obscure the notable differences between the various procedures of self-observation developed in these sites. I will now provide a chart for a comparison between the experimental procedures developed by Oskar Vogt, a typical proponent of introspective hypnotism, and Freud in the 1890s. What sets them apart is the importance assigned to the location in which the respective experiment takes place. Whereas Vogt and his collaborators resorted to the strategy of transforming the consulting room into a psychological laboratory and of training their own subjects in situ, Freud first opted for the book as a device which would detach his procedure from the site of neuropathological practice.


In the first attempts of the introspective hypnotists to redefine the hypnotic subject, texts were opposed to other texts. In order to achieve an effective, convincing redefinition, Oskar Vogt set out to train his own subjects in a place that would be able to compete with the laboratories of the experimental psychologists in German universities. From 1895 on, Vogt had the Zeitschrift für Hypnotismus for the promotion of his own method, but he lacked a site where he could establish a laboratory for hypnosis. After his failure to create his own « hypnotic clinic » in Leipzig, due to the interventions of the psychiatrist Paul Flechsig and the resistance of Wundt [60]   Satzinger, 1998, 44 f. [60] , Vogt took on a position in Alexandersbad, a private sanitarium in Bavaria. There he developed his method, in close collaboration with Korbinian Brodmann, who published a detailed account of the method and most of the case histories. Vogt’s new subjects were educated, wealthy patients for whom the techniques of suggestion of Nancy had to be largely modified. A major modification consisted in the refusal to give « orders » to the patient, a practice recommended by Liébeault and Bernheim, both of whom had dealt with larger groups of patients from the lower classes. Already in his first report about his practice as a hypnotist in Leizpig, Vogt noted that he « generally avoided giving suggestions in the form of an order, in order not to disturb those subjects who do not want to be deprived of their "free will". When dealing with an educated person, I usually present the phenomena of suggestion as something that emerges naturally out of himself » [61]   Vogt, in Forel, 1895, 42. [61] .


For the effective redefinition of the subject for a hypnotic experiment that would match Wundt’s criteria of a well-trained self-observer, the literacy and education of the patient had to be taken into account. The ideal subjects were first and foremost defined by the « ability of their critical and sober self-observation » which comprised the « adequate verbal expression » of what they had observed in themselves [62]   Vogt, 1899, 71. [62] . Vogt formulated a set of criteria : on the one hand, the subject’s « will » and « attention » to observe their inner objects had to be constant. On the other hand, those objects had to be given in their full intensity which they only attained in a state of dissociation. With these requirements, he combined the criteria demanded by Wundt for a good self-observer with the observations of patients made by neuropathologists like Breuer and Freud in their Studies on Hysteria. Thus, his strategy amounted to transporting the qualities of the psychological introspectionist into the clinic and extending the method of experimentation to entities which were excluded from Wundt’s laboratory in Leipzig. Vogt termed the state of dissociation a « systematic partial waking state which is constituted by a complete waking state for all the elements of consciousness pertaining to the experimental system and by a deep sleep-inhibition (Schlafhemmung) for all the others » [63]   Vogt, 1897, 200. [63] .


Like his master Forel, Vogt had taken the analogy between hypnosis and sleep literally. Hence, what had to be achieved first in his hypnosis laboratory was to put the subject into a state close to sleep. The so-called « fractionation method » developed by Vogt and Brodmann in Alexandersbad would enable the doctor to systematically control the mental changes induced in the patient. In a setting where all possible acoustic and optical excitations were reduced to a minimum, the gradual hypnotization was constantly checked by the doctor’s questions. With this procedure, hypnosis was achieved step by step by a « consequent disciplining » of the subject. In marked opposition to the school of Charcot where the patient had to be unaware of the purpose of the experiment, the patient was at the beginning informed by the experimenter about all the qualities required of a « good subject ». According to Brodmann, « Vogt asserts that he dœs not want to achieve blind obedience, but rather that he wants to educate his patients in order to increase their autonomy and strength of will » [64]   Brodmann, 1898, 243. [64] . Once the subject had internalized these control techniques, he or she could in turn take on the role of the hypnotist. Vogt and his followers attempted not only to cure their patients by making them into self-observers ; they also asked the future hypnotherapists to subject themselves to the whole procedure. By promoting such a special training for the specialist, Vogt’s hypnosis laboratory would have become the only passage point for the creation of hypnotic phenomena, if he had not abandoned the project around 1900 [65]  However, Vogt’s strategies to combine hypnotism and... [65] .


In contradistinction to these introspective hypnotists, Freud dropped the project of turning the consulting room of the hypnotist into a laboratory. Although he had at first been tempted to transform hypnotism into a laboratory science [66]  In several passages of his review of Forel’s book on... [66] , in an article for a medical dictionary published in 1891, Freud listed the various disadvantages of Bernheim’s suggestion technique when it was practiced outside the space of the hospital. Despite the fact that there was no clear epistemic criterion for the doctor, if the patient was really in a hypnotic state or simulating, the major obstacle was a technical one : Freud reported that most of his patients started arguing with him immediately over the first, simplest suggestion which would put them to sleep. « I am not in the least asleep » was the initial reaction of the intelligent patient [67]   Freud, 1891, 110. [67] . From this experience, Freud decided to drop the analogy between sleep and hypnosis and built another theory and technique which did not take the patient’s complaisance, but rather his or her « resistance » as a starting-point [68]  Complaisance was a term introduced by Joseph Delbœuf... [68] .


Thus, the transfer of Bernheim’s suggestion techniques to the medical culture of Vienna had met problems when « educated persons » in the private practice became its target. Most of the Austrian propagators of the Nancy school had performed their first experiments on patients from the lower classes, many of them illiterate. For instance, the laryngologist Johann Schnitzler from the Allgemeine Poliklinik, who was assisted by his son Arthur in the hypnosis experiments, pointed out that their illiteracy made his patients into perfect subjects, because they were unable to distort the experimental results [69]   Schnitzler, 1888. [69] . In the private practice, however, the situation was entirely different, for those patients were from the middle or upper classes and avid readers of the growing literature on hypnotism [70]  As a reviewer noted in the late 1880s, « the literature... [70] . Such was the clientele of Krafft-Ebing, Breuer, and Freud. A case from the early 1890s illustrates the difficulties of the techniques of suggestion on such a terrain quite well : Nina R., who was first treated under Krafft-Ebing’s direction in a private sanitarium in Graz, complained about her hypnotic treatment in a letter to the psychiatrist by theorizing at length which practices had led to the development of her « nervous states ». The patient was then sent to Breuer and Freud in Vienna. The latter classified her way of speaking as « precocious » and noted that « the patient occupies herself constantly with reading and writing » [71]   Freud, quoted in Hirschmüller, 1978, 157. [71] . The « hypnotic treatment according to Bernheim » which Freud seemed to have applied in combination with physical treatments soon turned into a failure. « The considerable intelligence » of Nina R. enabled her to argue with Breuer and Freud over every single detail of the treatment : « in the end, she remained her own doctor and gave us the right to console her, to be pleasant with her, and to listen to her complaints, under the condition that we respected the ceremonial which she had built up around herself and did not disturb her cherished habitudes » [72]   Ibid., 160. [72] .


Thus reading patients were real troublemakers. Not only did they argue with the doctor about what was going on with them during the treatment ; they also tended to develop their own theories about their illnesses and chose, in extreme cases, to become their own doctors. In this context, Freud designed a device by which the reading patient would be turned into an ally and, at best, into a follower. As John Forrester [73]   Forrester, 1997. [73] has persuasively argued, The Interpretation of Dreams was to a large extent conceived as a sort of « transferential machine ». Throughout the first chapters of the book, Freud stages the demonstration of his dream theory as a trial between the skeptical reader and the author. Turning the reader into an ally implies that the latter follow the rules set out by Freud at the beginning of chapter 2. There, Freud asks the reader « to make my interests his own for quite a while, and to plunge, along with me, into the minutest details of my life ; for a transference of this kind is peremptorily demanded by our interests in the hidden meaning of dreams » [74]   Freud, 1900b, 106. In Strachey’s translation, the... [74] . In Freud’s textual device, the reader is invited to adopt the author’s position and – via this special form of « transference » – to familiarize himself with the method of self-analysis by interpreting his own dreams. When he comes up with dreams that contradict the author’s theory that the dream is the fulfillment of a wish, the reader has entered resistance and simply wishes to contradict Freud’s theory. At the beginning, the transmission of his new technique is for Freud entirely conferred to the book and dissociated from the consulting room.


This dissociation has an important source in the specific form of scientific communication from which Freud developed a good deal of his new technique : private correspondence. In his letters to Wilhelm Fliess, Freud’s initial conception of the self-analysis can be better followed than in his book. The only hint he gives there is that he performs his dream analyses « by the help of writing down my ideas as they occur to me » [75]   Freud, 1900b : 103. [75] . In his short version of his dreambook On Dreams [76]   Freud, 1901a. [76] , the following description of the technique is given : « It will […] be enough to say that we obtain material that enables us to resolve any pathological idea if we turn our attention precisely to those associations which are "involuntary", which "interfere with our reflection", and which are normally dismissed by our critical faculty as worthless rubbish. If we make use of this procedure upon ourselves, we can best assist the investigation by at once writing down what are at first unintelligible associations » [77]   Ibid., 636. [77] . How Freud proceeded, is best illustrated by an example from his correspondence with Fliess. In 1897, he sent his friend a letter in which he analyzed a dreamt telegraph message about the latter’s whereabouts [78]  Letter from Freud to Fliess, April 28, 1897, in Freud,... [78] . First of all, Freud writes down the dream content (the telegram words appearing in varying vividness) and the accompanying affects, his anger that Fliess had not gone to the place which he had recommended to him. After the dream report comes the « report on motives » in which the self-analyst reconstructs in writing the provoking cause and the ensuing associations. That the dream is interpreted by Freud as a « wish-fulfilment », the wish to know the exact address of his friend, is less remarkable than the way in which he dœs it. He notes that the dream is an expression of his « persistent reaction » to Fliess’ « dream of defense, which tried to substitute the grandfather of the otherwise customary father » [79]   Ibid., 237. [79] . Behind Freud’s dreamwish is an unresolved scientific dispute between them about the role of the father in the etiology of hysteria, most notably a scientific dispute taking place in dreams.


From Freud’s correspondence with Fliess, it becomes evident that the specific dialogic form which characterizes the core sections of The Interpretation of Dreams is a result of the author’s strident discussions with skeptical readers and listeners. Thus, instead of transforming the consulting room of the neuropathologist into a laboratory, Freud made the book into a space where he demonstrates how he can win the battle with the reading patient or the critic at a distance. The Interpretation of Dreams amounted in its first version to a refined version of an « experimentalism without a laboratory » [80]  This expression is taken from Binet (1886, 114), an... [80] . Despite the intricate ways of checking the self-observation of the patients or critics in a controlled space in order to transform them into good subject, transmission of self-analysis à la Freud consisted of a transformation of readers through the acts of writing, reading and dreaming by the book.

III - Reading, Writing, Dreaming : Epistolary Analysis

« Wenn ich nur wüsste, wie ich mehr unbewusst schreiben sollte ».

Eugen Bleuler in a report on his associations addressed to Sigmund Freud (1905)

The difficulties of Freud’s invention of the « psychoanalytic reader » became apparent when the book met its first actual readers. While academic psychologists mostly rejected The Interpretation of Dreams because its fashion of exposing the technique of self-analysis appeared to them unrigorous, the reactions in literary and philosophical circles were mixed [81]  For a larger discussion of the early reception on which... [81] . First of all, it became clear that it was not easy to learn the technique just from reading the book. Even before the first reviews were published, the philosopher Heinrich Gomperz, one of the first readers of the book, wrote to the author with the request to learn the method of « self-analysis » from him. In order to give him lessons, Freud invited him to come to his home during the evenings. During this « experiment » with Gomperz, he came to realize that "interpreting dreams appears to be more difficult for others than I had indicated » [82]  Letter from Freud to Fliess, November 26, 1899, in... [82] .


Given these difficulties in non-clinical cultures of introspection, we may wonder about the reactions of the proponents of introspective hypnotism. While Vogt and Forel soon adopted a negative stance, Eugen Bleuler, who still figured as the specimen case of the « hypnotized hypnotist » in Forel’s manual [83]   Forel, 1906. [83] , inaugurated a positive reception of psychoanalysis at the Burghölzli clinic in Zurich [84]  Bleuer had already written a positive review of the... [84] . Since Freud had still not written a textbook introduction into his technique, but instead declared The Interpretations of Dreams to be « the forerunner of an initiation to his technique » [85]   Freud, 1904, 252. [85] , Bleuler set out to learn psychoanalysis by reading the book [86]  It has to be stressed that Freud refrained for a longer... [86] . From his unpublished correspondence with Freud, it becomes evident that he failed to learn the technique from reading the book and that he tried for a certain time to acquire the method by writing down his dreams and interpreting them with his medical assistants and his wife [87]  Only a part of Bleuler’s correspondence with Freud... [87] . As early as 1905, he wrote to Freud requesting assistance : « Although I have found your Interpretation of Dreams correct after my first reading of the book, it is the exception that I can interpret one of my own dreams. Often my dreams are such a mess that it is impossible to render them in the words and concepts of the waking person » [88]  Letter from Bleuler to Freud, October 9, 1905, LC. [88] .


Although under its new director, the Burghölzli hospital in Zurich turned into a flourishing culture of introspection, it must be noted that Bleuler had slowly turned away from hypnotism as it had been practised by his mentor Forel and favoured the association test introduced by Francis Galton and later altered and refined by psychiatrists such as Kraepelin. In Bleuler’s view, the association test promised not just a firm basis for psychiatric diagnosis, but also an objective science of character : "in the activity of association there is mirrored the whole psychical essence of the past and of the present, with all their experiences and desires. It thus becomes an index of all the psychical processes which we have but to decipher in order to understand the complete man » [89]   Bleuler, 1904, quoted in Jung, 1918, 4 f. [89] . The association test consisted of finding the determining « unconscious complexes » by collecting and registering the associations with a given series of words. The complexes were thus conceived of as material entities that could be deciphered from the visible deviations of a standardized association experiment. Thus for Bleuler and his assistants, Freud’s technique of self-analysis seemed to be a special variant of introspection which could be used as a complement of the association test.


The early reception of Freudian psychoanalysis and the technique of dream-analysis in particular was shaped by its insertion in an already established experimental clinical culture where various methods – hypnotic suggestion, automatic speaking and writing, the association test – were combined [90]  In correspondence with this blend of experimental techniques,... [90] . What made dream-analysis attractive for Bleuler was certainly the fact that it seemed to be similar to forms of automatic writing and that it would provide an objective picture of the workings of the unconscious. Contrary to many of his psychiatric colleagues, he advocated the study of automatic writing in hypnotic states and of thought transference as observed in lucid women and other mediums : « A girl writes (from left to right) an arabic dedication that she must have seen once without understanding it. She displays a knowledge (Kenntnisse) that she never disposed of consciously […]. Automatic writing deserves more of the psychologists’ attention than it usually gets » [91]   Bleuler, 1905, 135. [91] . Given Bleuler’s openness to such procedures developed outside the academic realm and his opposition to Wundt’s understanding of a psychological experiment, it is not surprising that he approached Freud with the request to instruct him and resolve the riddles of his messy dream life. It seemed natural to Bleuler who reportedly walked through the hospital with a bunch of cards on which he constantly noted his observations [92]   Klaesi, 1956. [92] , to conduct the whole analysis with Freud in writing. Thus Bleuler started to send his dream reports and his associations to Freud, who in turn interpreted them.


From the start, Bleuler split his role as a correspondent into two parts. On the one hand, he played the role of a patient and disciple who sent in his material anonymously. On the other hand, he wanted to maintain the role of a skeptical colleague who was still not convinced by Freud’s theories. Hence, he declared his reports and associations not to be « material for the interpretation of dreams, but rather the foundation of a critique of the technique » [93]  Bleuler to Freud, October 14, 1905, LC. [93] . With this splitting of roles, he put himself exactly into the position that the author of The Interpretation of Dreams had designed for the professional readers of his book. But quite contrary to Freud’s expectation, Bleuler did not accept that he was in a position of « emotional resistance (Gefühlswiderstand) » [94]   Ibid. [94] .


During the epistolary analysis, which lasted for a few months, Bleuler attempted to transform the writing of his associations into an experimental set-up that would resemble an association experiment. In order to detect material traces for his unconscious complexes, he assigned a crucial role to his typewriter, a dear instrument which accompanied him on travels and even in his bed when he fell ill [95]   Cf. Klaesi (1956, 10). From his letters to Freud,... [95] . « If one has not much practice, the typewriter is a very good reagent for complexes », Bleuler explained to Freud [96]  Bleuler to Freud, November 5, 1905, LC. [96] . The loss of practice obviously referred to the much criticized method of « Tippen » where the typist only uses two fingers and cannot read and write at the same time, because he has constantly to shift the focus of his attention [97]  The criticism of typing emerges in the context of psychotechnical... [97] . The gain of this deficiency was that every misspelling would in principle lead the trained eye of the graphological expert to a hidden meaning and indicate an unconscious complex. By this means, Bleuler was also looking for traces from which the interpretation would start.


Although Bleuler and Freud could meet on this common ground and establish to a large extent via Carl Gustav Jung an alliance between Zurich and Vienna, Bleuler’s resistance did not melt away. In 1910 he finally published his critique of psychoanalysis, also based on the correspondence with Freud, under the ambiguous title « Verteidigung und kritische Bemerkungen » [98]   Bleuler, 1910. [98] . In this lenghty text, one of the first extensive criticisms of Freud’s theories and procedures from within the psychoanalytic movement, the psychiatrist tried to provide a balanced account. His defense started from the assertion that the « factual foundations » of psychoanalysis « did not go beyond the facts which the observing psychologist has known for quite some time already » [99]   Ibid., 623. [99] . Bleuler was still addressing an audience that conceived of psychological experimentation primarily as introspection. Thus the value of his judgments was given by the amount of his own experience acquired in this art over the past 30 years. In the text, Bleuler also disclosed some of the results of his epistolary analysis with Freud. Although he fully subscribed to the Œdipus complex, portraying himself as a typical case [100]   Ibid., 647 f. [100] , he still doubted the universality of Freud’s explanation of dreams and resorted to older concepts (like « autosuggestion » or « inhibition ») with which he had become familiar in the experimental culture of hypnotism [101]   Ibid., 726 f. [101] .


The fact that Bleuler and the other Swiss representatives of the early psychoanalytic movement failed to be fully convinced by Freud’s method, had consequences both for the further editions of The Interpretation of Dreams and the ways the technique was transmitted. The importance of the Swiss connection for the early success of psychoanalysis has rarely been noted, mostly because after 1914 the history of psychoanalysis has often been written in a Freudian or Jungian mode and passed over crucial figures like Bleuler [102]  This has changed only recently, with the advent of... [102] . Freud’s early Swiss followers at the Burghölzli were very keen to develop a strong methodology for psychoanalysis, also because of the competition between experimental psychologists and psychiatrists. In this context, Bleuler’s epistolary analysis proved to be more than an episode – it raised a problem for Freud regarding the transmission of his technique and the place that could be assigned to self-analysis as he had originally conceived it.


This problem was most strongly felt by Jung, who wanted to make psychoanalysis into a scientifically respectable method. In 1911 when Freud asked him to make suggestions about the revision of The Interpretation of Dreams, Jung demanded that the book assume the format of a psychology textbook with a clear and complete exposition of the method. Swiss readers of Freud’s dream book were as dissatisfied with its content as with its form of presentation. Jung went so far as to suggest that Freud’s own Irma dream should be replaced by « a typical analysis of a patient’s dream, where the ultimate real motives are ruthlessly disclosed » [103]  Letter from Jung to Freud, February 14, 1911, in Freud,... [103] . In the estrangement between Freud and Jung and the ensuing split between the Viennese and Swiss psychoanalysts, the opposition between training analysis and self-analysis – ridiculed by Jung as a sort of « Münchhausen-Psychologie » – played a major role. In the long run, the move from self-analysis to training analysis in psychoanalytic institutions can also be traced back to the fact that Freud’s experimentalism without a laboratory could not be assimilated into the experimental culture of the Swiss.



More than a solitary, unrepeatable foundation even, Freud’s self-analysis has to be viewed in light of the manifold procedures of introspection which were developed in the late 19th century. I have argued here that some of the key elements which characterize the rhetorical exposition of Freud’s own dreams in The Interpretation of Dreams were already forged in the current of introspective hypnotism which predominated in German-speaking countries in the 1890s. The rhetoric of confession employed by Forel, Vogt or Wundt in their reports on auto-hypnotic states placed the persona of the weak or failing medical expert on stage. Freud’s ambiguous self-presentation in his book, in which he played the hero and the villain at the same time, thus appears as an elaboration of this rhetoric and its conventions. Viewing the self-analysis in this context, however, dœs not mean one must endorse a reductionist stance. Instead, it can provide us with a clearer notion of its very specificity as a procedure. Contrary to the attempts of introspective hypnotists, who tried to establish laboratories where the minds of self-observing patients could be controlled systematically, Freud opted for a refined version of experimentalism without a laboratory. In this conception, to a large degree self-analysis meant a writing exercise which could be performed at a distance with another correspondent. This distinctive practice was used when Eugen Bleuler, who had been initiated into hypnotism by Forel and supported its introspective variety, wanted to become familiar with Freud’s new technique. According to the Swiss psychoanalysts, writing down the associations was a means of materializing the unconscious « complex » and proving its objective existence. However, the fact that the practices of writing the unconscious in Zurich and Vienna diverged considerably also contributed to the demise of self-analysis as it was originally promoted by Freud.


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Jones, 1953, 319.


This framing of the self-analysis as an « endless beginning » suggests the narratives of mystics. For an analysis of mystic speech and a comparison between forms of writing in mysticism and psychoanalysis, cf. Certeau (1982 ; 1987) and, in a similar vein, Chiantaretto (1998). Ellenberger (1964 (1993)) also groups Freud’s self-analysis together with the experiences reported by the religious mystics and pœts, reclassifying all these diverse singular events under the category of « creative illness ». For other critical historians who perceive the major task of history and sociology of science in the destruction of myths, the question of dating the actual beginning of Freud’s self-analysis and evaluating its eventual « results » are of chief importance (cf. Sulloway, 1979 (1992), 207-210).


Earlier versions of this text were presented at the conference « The Interpretation of Dreams/The Dreams of Interpretation », University of Minnesota, October 5-8, 2000, and in the Psy studies seminar in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, February 28, 2001. I thank John Forrester, Lydia Marinelli, Alexandre Métraux, Simon Schaffer, and Henning Schmidgen for their comments on earlier drafts, and Laura Otis for helping me with the English.


Anzieu, 1959 ; 1986.


Freud, 1900b, xxvi.


Eissler, 1971, 279.


Sulloway, 1979 (1992).


According to William James, « introspective observation is what we have to rely on first and foremost and always. The word introspection hardly needs to be defined - it means, of course, looking into our own minds and reporting what we discover there. Everyone agrees that there we discover states of consciousness. As far as I know, the existence of such states has never been doubted by any critic however skeptical in other respects he may have been » (James, 1890, vol. I, 185). For histories about the demise of introspection in psychology, cf. Boring (1953) and Danziger (1980).


Freud, 1900b, 105. It should be noted that the notion « self-analysis » appears for the first time in Freud’s book in the plural form and in quotation marks (« Selbstanalysen »). Throughout the book, the term recurs in the singular only once again, in the context of a dream in which Freud carries out the dissection of his own body (Freud, 1900a, 262 and 278 ; Freud, 1900b, 454 and 477).


When this remarkable shift is placed in its concrete historical context and linked to the politics of the psychoanalytic movement, Freud’s sudden confession in the preface to the second edition appears in a different light. By 1907, the year when the second edition of the book was completed, Freud started to elaborate the Œdipus complex as a universal pattern structuring human sexuality (cf. Forrester, 1980, 84-96). Hence, the weight conferred upon the Œdipus dream shifted considerably between the first edition and further editions of the book. Only gradually, the acknowledgment of the Œdipal pattern provided a clear demarcation of the true and false Freudians. Thus Freud’s new preface should enable contemporary readers to link the freshly developed master concept of the Œdipus complex with the autobiographical information given in his own dream samples in the book. The rewriting of Freud’s dreambook in the context of the emergence of the psychoanalytic movement is analyzed extensively in Marinelli, Mayer (2000) and Marinelli, Mayer (forthcoming).


Only a few historians of psychoanalysis have so far discussed Freud’s self-analysis as a technical procedure in its own right. For a notable exception, cf. the study of Schott (1985).


There is an abundant literature on autobiographical writing in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which is mostly centered on famous literary or philosophical models such as Rousseau and Gœthe (for a representative, cf. Starobinski, 1971). A grand historical tour through the nineteenth century is given by Gay (1995) who manages to ignore strikingly the prominent place of introspection in the history of psychology. In recent years, several historians of science have drawn attention to the role of self-experimentation in scientific practice. Cf. the work of Schaffer (1992 ; 1994) for an investigation of « self-evidence » in various disciplines in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Hagner (forthcoming) for psychophysiology, and Strickland (1998) for romantic physics.


Freud, 1900b, xxiii.


Ibid., 105.


For a history of hypnotism and experimental psychology in France, cf. Carroy (1991), and for a social constructionist history of experimental psychology, Danziger (1990). Many of these studies focus on the emergence and evolution of diagnostic categories, hysteria (Castel, 1998) and double and multiple personalities (Carroy, 1993 ; Hacking, 1995) being the most popular ones.


Danziger, 1990, 49 f.


It should be remembered that the experimental program of hypnotism as developed in the context of physiology and pathology took animal hypnotism as one of its starting points. In order to establish a genealogy for this research, physiologists such as Czermak (1873) and Preyer (1880) engaged in a re-interpretation of Athanasius Kircher’s famous « experimentum mirabilis » in which a hen was put into a state of immobility. Charcot (1878) also performed such an experiment in his clinic in order to suggest an analogy between the « cataleptic » human subject and the effect produced on the hen.


Wundt, 1893.


Danziger, 1990, 52 f.


There are various accounts of the diversity of the French cultures of hypnotism. Cf. Carroy (1991), Harrington (1988), and the important work of Gauchet, Swain (1997) who even argue for a diversification of practices within Charcot’s school. For a broad historical overview of various schools of hypnotism, cf. Gauld (1992).


For a sociological analysis of the controversy between the two schools of hypnotism cf. the extensive treatment in Mayer (forthcoming) and, for an abridged version, Mayer (2001).


Cf. Chertok, Stengers, 1989, 15-37 ; Schaffer, 1992, 349 f.


Oskar Vogt, who later became a famous brain anatomist and founder of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute for Brain Research in Berlin, is rarely mentioned in the history of hypnotism. While Gauld (1992, 537 f.) summarizes Vogt’s physiological theories of hypnosis, the study of Satzinger (1998) is the first to establish the relevant biographical data. Vogt’s career as a hypnotist began in 1894 when he visited Forel, his first publication in the field being a number of annotations to the third edition of Forel’s manual on hypnotism (Forel, 1895). From 1896 on, he acted as the only editor of the Zeitschrift für Hypnotismus. Between 1895 and 1899, he attempted to establish a laboratory of experimental hypnotism. Cf. the next section of this article.


The English translation of the first edition of Forel’s manual (Forel, 1890) was not accessible to me. The later translation (Forel, 1906) only reproduces the fifth German edition which is a largely revised version. Therefore, the passages cited in the following section have been translated by myself from the earlier German editions.


Forel, 1889, 88.


The attempt to establish an experimental psychology in the German-speaking countries thus differed from the strategies followed by French psychologists (such as Binet) who did not combine introspection with hypnotic procedures. However, as Carroy (1997) suggests, the re-introduction of introspection into French experimental psychology during the 1890s was also due to a large extent to the reference to brain science.


Forel, 1889, 81 f.


It is not clear when Bleuler was initiated into hypnotism, but it is likely that his first encounter with the technique took place in Paris during the mid 1880s when he visited Charcot’s service. His first published text on the subject (Bleuler, 1887) reviews mostly the French literature, with the aim of reconciling the findings of the Salpêtrière school and the school of Nancy. From 1885 on, Bleuler was Forel’s protégé, becoming first director of the psychiatric asylum Rheinau (1886-1898) and later his successor at the Burghölzli hospital in Zurich. In 1889, Forel mentioned him as one of his collaborators during the First International Congress on Experimental and Therapeutic Hypnotism in Paris (Bérillon, 1890, 155), and credited him in his manual with « having himself hypnotized a great deal and completely master[ed] the method » (Forel, 1889, 81).


Bleuler, 1887, 701.


Delbœuf, 1886 ; 1889.


Bleuler, 1889, 76.


Ibid., 77.


Bleuler, 1889, 77.


For dream research before Freud, cf. Saussure (1926) and Métraux (2000).


Forel, 1889, 21 f., cited in Forel, 1906, 84.


Forel, 1895, cited in Forel, 1906, 86.


The widely used concept of « inhibition » (Hemmung) formed an important bridge for making this link. For a historical study of this notion, cf. Smith (1992).


Forel, 1895, 51.


In the third edition of his manual, Forel even added a sentence which dramatizes his experience : « At the time, I began to be afraid not to be able to get out of this state, and avoided to fall asleep during the afternoon » (Forel, 1895, 222). In the fourth edition, Forel (1902) replaced his retrospective account by a short summary which is reprinted in the english translation of the fifth German edition : « I myself experienced a sort of autohypnosis some time ago (1878), when going to sleep on a sofa or in an easy-chair in the afternoon. I was only able to awaken myself with difficulty, and at first only partially, so that to begin with only certain muscle groups awakened – i.e., could be voluntarily moved – while the rest of the body remained cataleptic. At the same time partial dreams occurred (hallucinating of steps or of movements, which I really had not made, and the like) » (Forel, 1906, 366).


The exposition of his weak brain also takes center stage in Francis Galton’s introspective reports (Galton 1878) which led him to the development of the association test (cf. Mayer, 1999). When the self-observer is his own expert witness, the subjective staging of memories is an important ingredient to make his account objective. Forel’s text thus differs from other earlier reports of medical self-observation in a hypnotic state, such as Obersteiner (1885) who reports how all his own observations under hypnosis were checked by his friend and colleague von Fleischl.


Delbœuf, 1885 (1993), 39. Forel was in extensive correspondence with Delbœuf, some excepts of which have been published in Forel (1968). It is most likely that the philosopher’s strategies to make the hypnotic state analogous to the normal dream had an impact on Forel. Cf. Delbœuf (1885 ; 1885 (1993) ; 1886).


Vogt, 1895-1896, 32.


Wundt, 1893.


Ibid., 29.


Ibid., 31.


Ibid., 32.


Ibid., 72 f.


In this sense, Wundt’s autobiographical report reflects the psychologist’s denial of the clinic as a possible site for psychological experimentation which he sustained in the second edition of his pamphlet (Wundt, 1911). Schmidgen (1999) has argued that, contrary to this denial, the clinic formed the primary context for Wundt’s experimental knowledge.


Letter from Freud to Fliess, August 29, 1888, in Freud (1985, 24), translation modified.


Freud, 1889.


The only hints about Freud’s reception of the work done by Forel, Vogt and Bleuler are given in his preface to the second German Edition of Bernheim’s book on suggestion. There, Freud criticizes the author for not having made clear « that "suggestion" (or rather the accomplishment of a suggestion) is a pathological psychical phenomenon which calls for particular conditions before it can come about. […] And, while he explains all the phenomena of hypnotism by suggestion, suggestion itself remains wholly unexplained, but is veiled by a show of its needing no explanation. This gap has no doubt been observed by all those enquirers who have followed Forel in a search for a psychological theory of suggestion » (Freud, 1896, 86 f.).


Freud, 1900b, 125.


Letter from Freud to Fliess, March 4, 1895, in Freud (1985, 114).


Freud, 1900b, 125. In the commentary to the German edition of the letters (Freud, 1986, 115), Michael Schröter has made the plausible suggestion that the two episodes are related in this way.


Freud, 1900b, 105.


Ibid., 125.


Ibid., 105.


The further proliferation of this sort of writing can be followed in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901b) where Freud reports the following episode from his medical practice : « There is a very old lady whom I have been visiting twice a day for some years. On my morning visit my medical services are limited to two actions. I put a few drops of eye-lotion into her eye and give her a morphine injection. Two bottles are always prepared for me : a blue one with the collyrium and a white one with the morphine solution. During the two operations my thoughts are no doubt usually busy with something else ; by now I have performed them so often that my attention behaves as if it were at liberty. One morning I noticed that the automaton had worked wrong. I had put the dropper into the white bottle instead of the blue one and had put morphine into the eye instead of collyrium. I was greatly frightened and then reassured myself by reflecting that a few drops of a two per cent solution of morphine could not do any harm even in the conjunctival sac. The feeling of fright must obviously have come from another source » (Freud, 1901b, 177). In the ensuing analysis of this « bungled action » (Vergreifen), Freud reveals that he was absorbed in thoughts about the universality of the Œdipus dream and the wish to have sexual intercourse with one’s own mother. Thus, the theorist stages one of his major insights as the upshot of a mistake in the realm of clinical practice, an act of « sich vergreifen » (which means both « to make a blunder » and « to harrass somebody »).


« A suggestion : You will read this book, even if you try to resist it. And the more you resist, the faster you will be under its spell ».


Satzinger, 1998, 44 f.


Vogt, in Forel, 1895, 42.


Vogt, 1899, 71.


Vogt, 1897, 200.


Brodmann, 1898, 243.


However, Vogt’s strategies to combine hypnotism and experimental psychology were continuous with those used after 1900 by the exponents of the Würzburg school (like Külpe and Narziss Ach) who started to oppose Wundt’s restrictions of the psychic phenomena that could be studied under laboratory conditions. Boring (1953) argues that these new psychological schools emerged in opposition to what he termes Wundt’s « classical introspection », namely the idea that the « description of consciousness reveals complexes that are constituted of patterns of sensory elements » (Boring, 1953, 172). For a recent anthology and overview on this theme, cf. Ziche (1999). To place Vogt in such a genealogy makes sense, since he was seen by his contemporaries first and foremost as one of the German opponents of Wundt (cf. e.g. Farez, 1897-1898).


In several passages of his review of Forel’s book on hypnotism, Freud endorsed such a view : « Anyone who has assembled a few personal experiences with hypnotism will recall the impression it made on him for the first time he exercised what had hitherto been an undreamt-of influence on another person’s psychical life and was able to experiment on a human mind in a away that is normally possible only on an animal’s body » (Freud, 1889, 98 f.).


Freud, 1891, 110.


Complaisance was a term introduced by Joseph Delbœuf (1886) to characterize the behavior of the hypnotized subject. In her reading of Freud’s technical papers, Isabelle Stengers has argued that the drive to make psychoanalysis into a laboratory science persisted in Freud’s later development of his technique, the concept of resistance being a central component, but was followed by an insight in its failure (cf. Chertok, Stengers, 1989 ; Stengers, 1992 ; Stengers, personal communication). I agree with Stengers that in order to grasp the specific scientificity of psychoanalysis, the absence of a laboratory has to be taken into account. However, I would suggest that Freud’s development of an experimentalism without a laboratory with its distinctive practices of mediation was already well in place when he set out to write his technical papers.


Schnitzler, 1888.


As a reviewer noted in the late 1880s, « the literature on hypnotism is more bought by laymen than by medical doctors » (Pauly, 1889, 429). The bibliography of Dessoir (1888 ; 1890) gives an idea of the amount of work published. During the 1890s, the writings on the subject increased, especially in popular accounts and in the press.


Freud, quoted in Hirschmüller, 1978, 157.


Ibid., 160.


Forrester, 1997.


Freud, 1900b, 106. In Strachey’s translation, the reader is – as in Freud’s German original – male.


Freud, 1900b : 103.


Freud, 1901a.


Ibid., 636.


Letter from Freud to Fliess, April 28, 1897, in Freud, 1985, 236 f.


Ibid., 237.


This expression is taken from Binet (1886, 114), an early instance of a technique by which the experimental findings in hypnotism could be reproduced in a simple writing exercise : attempting to write down a well-known name that one has forgotten. Binet followed the classic example given by Ribot (1881) in his book on memory. An earlier instance of such a strategy is Galton’s conception of the association test (cf. Mayer, 1999). Freud’s most popular book at the time, The Psychopathology of Everyday-Life (1901b) was conceived in a similar line.


For a larger discussion of the early reception on which this section is drawing, cf. Marinelli, Mayer (2000, 40-48) and Marinelli, Mayer (forthcoming).


Letter from Freud to Fliess, November 26, 1899, in Freud, 1985, 389.


Forel, 1906.


Bleuer had already written a positive review of the Studies on Hysteria (Bleuler, 1896) when Freud announced enthustiastically in 1904 to Fliess that he « recently found an absolutely stunning recognition of my point of view […] by an official psychiatrist, Bleuler in Zurich » (Letter from Freud to Fliess, April 26, 1904, in Freud, 1985, 461). From 1901 on, Bleuler started to study Freud’s work at the Burghölzli together with his assistants Franz Riklin and Carl Gustav Jung.


Freud, 1904, 252.


It has to be stressed that Freud refrained for a longer period from any methodical exposition of his psychoanalytic technique. This point is decisive for an assessment of the ambivalent alliance between the Swiss and Viennese psychoanalysts in the period 1905-1914. Cf. Mayer (forthcoming) for a more extensive treatment.


Only a part of Bleuler’s correspondence with Freud has been preserved in the Freud collection of the Library of Congress, Washington DC (hereafter cited from the unpublished originals as LC) ; some excerpts were published in English by Alexander, Selesnick (1965). The letters reveal that the official historical account about the formation of the link between Vienna and Zurich has to be revised. Before Jung contacted Freud in 1906, Bleuler was already in correspondence with the latter.


Letter from Bleuler to Freud, October 9, 1905, LC.


Bleuler, 1904, quoted in Jung, 1918, 4 f.


In correspondence with this blend of experimental techniques, Bleuler’s psychological theories were highly eclectic (cf. Bleuler, 1894 ; 1905).


Bleuler, 1905, 135.


Klaesi, 1956.


Bleuler to Freud, October 14, 1905, LC.




Cf. Klaesi (1956, 10). From his letters to Freud, we learn that Bleuler had just started using a typewriter. In a later series of dream reports (Bleuler, 1913), the typewriter figures prominently in one example.


Bleuler to Freud, November 5, 1905, LC.


The criticism of typing emerges in the context of psychotechnical experiments. For a later study, written in a similar vein, cf. Scholz (1923).


Bleuler, 1910.


Ibid., 623.


Ibid., 647 f.


Ibid., 726 f.


This has changed only recently, with the advent of a new Jung scholarship (for programmatic statements, cf. Taylor, 1996 ; Shamdasani, 1998).


Letter from Jung to Freud, February 14, 1911, in Freud, Jung, 1974, 392.



Most historians of psychoanalysis still view Freud’s famous self-analysis as a truly revolutionary and heroic event. In contrast both to the hagiography sustaining Freud’s heroism and to a revisionist historiography, the author develops a framework for a historical understanding of its technical significance, in relation to other techniques of self-observation in clinical psychology in the 1890s which he proposes to term introspective hypnotism. Its practioners employed a rhetoric of confession which put the persona of the failing medical expert on stage and forged a genre upon which Freud further elaborated in The Interpretation of Dreams. The common ground that Freud shared with these medical self-observers serves the author to highlight the specificities of his self-analytic approach. In contrast to the attempts of introspective hypnotists who tried to establish laboratories where the minds of self-observing patients could be controlled systematically, Freud opted for a refined version of experimentalism without laboratory which conceived of self-analysis as a writing exercise and could be performed at a distance with another correspondent.


  • history of psychoanalysis and hypnotism (1890-1914)
  • self-analysis and self-observation
  • interpretation of dreams
  • Freud (Sigmund)
  • Bleuler (Eugen)
  • Forel (Auguste)
  • Vogt (Oskar)


L’auto-analyse de Freud est considérée en histoire de la psychanalyse comme un événement fondateur : événement mythique à célébrer ou à dénoncer. L’auteur s’interdit d’inscrire les procédés freudiens dans le conflit entre historiographies hagiographique ou révisionniste. Il propose de situer la spécificité technique de l’auto-analyse dans le champ plus vaste d’autres techniques d’auto-observation en psychologie clinique, notamment dans un courant qu’il nomme hypnotisme introspectif. Les récits d’auto-hypnose sont caractérisés par une rhétorique de la confession, mettant en scène le personnage même de l’expert médical en train de succomber, et ils constituaient un genre que Freud a ensuite approfondi dans « L’interprétation des rêves ». À partir de ce fond commun, l’auteur distingue les spécificités de l’approche freudienne par rapport aux stratégies expérimentales utilisées par les hypnotiseurs introspectionnistes qui entendaient contrôler les contenus mentaux des sujets en train de s’auto-observer. Contrairement au projet d’établir un laboratoire d’hypnose, Freud choisit la voie d’un expérimentalisme sans laboratoire, où l’auto-analyse est conçue comme un procédé d’écriture, qu’on pouvait même entreprendre à distance avec un correspondant.


  • histoire de la psychanalyse et de l’hypnotisme (1890-1914)
  • auto-analyse, auto-observation
  • Freud (Sigmund)
  • Bleuler (Eugen)
  • Forel (Auguste)
  • Vogt (Oskar)

Plan de l'article

  1. Introspective Hypnotism in Clinical Practice
  2. Experimentalism With and Without A Laboratory
  3. Reading, Writing, Dreaming : Epistolary Analysis
  4. Conclusion

Pour citer cet article

Mayer Andreas, « Introspective Hypnotism and Freud's Self-Analysis : Procedures of Self-Observation in Clinical Practice », Revue d'Histoire des Sciences Humaines 2/ 2001 (no 5), p. 171-196
DOI : 10.3917/rhsh.005.0171

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