The time Freud reminded me that vulnerability and open discussion go hand in hand

January 3, 2016

Cronenberg’s film A Dangerous Method tells the story of the relationship between Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, and Jung’s patient-turned-lover-turned-colleague, Sabina Spielrein. There’s a particularly striking scene when Jung and Freud are chatting on a steamboat to America. Jung shares one of his dreams, which they analyse together, and it represents the changing nature of their relationship. Jung then asks Freud to share a dream of his own. Freud declines, saying something along the lines of ‘I had a dream, rather rich and complex, but I don’t think I should share it, for I fear undermining my authority’.

It hit me like a brick.

As a human, as an intellectual, pushing the boundaries of human knowledge – to be afraid to share, in conversation with your closest colleague, to be afraid to be vulnerable in order to hang on to authority – means you have no authority. Heaven save us from this outrageous delusion of ego.

Vulnerability is an essential for open discussion and is the absolute bedrock for ideas to ferment, cultivate, and bloom.

It also reinforces my resolve to blog openly in and out of academia, rather than to get (too) caught up in the game of sitting on our ideas and hiding them away in a metaphorical box out of fear of theft.

Isn’t all good art a form of theft? More on that later.

The scene between Freud and Jung also shouts at audiences that the film is much more about the psychology of the relationship, where the trailer just makes it look like a fancy x-rated film. There’s a lot of smut in it too, but mostly a lot of intellectualising.

The extent of Spielrein’s contribution to psychoanalysis was also a surprise to me. Though my undergrad was in Psychology, it was good ol’fashioned positivist psych with a strong emphasis on experiments, and psychoanalysis as a topic barely covered two lectures in three years. I’d never heard of Spielrein.

Spielrein even inspired Freud’s ‘death instinct’: She proposed that the ultimate sexual act is a destruction of the ego, by unifying with another. So, the individual ego has to die in order to join and create something greater and bigger than itself, with another. The original creative destruction.

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