The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge. (Jeremiah 31:29 quoted by Lacan in Ecrits)
The Biblical epigraph is relevant because of the magnificent way in which the Portuguese author Jose Saramago uses dreams in his novel The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. By making use of every conceivable poetic license, as a neo-new testament author, he burdens Joseph with a terrible nightmare in which he remembers his indelible guilt: he knew that Herod the Great intended to kill all children under the age of three, and at that time he ran desperately seeking Mary and Jesus, but he refrained from warning the parents of the innocents, thus preventing them from saving their own children. Because of this, after the horrible massacre, there is no rest for him, and he wakes up screaming every night, dreaming himself in the guise of a soldier who runs and who’s answer to the question “Where are you going, Joseph?” is: “I’m going to kill my son.”
In that same book Jose Saramago tells how, after Joseph’s death, the nightmare is transferred: it is now Jesus who finds himself hounded by a dream that follows upon his father’s. He sees himself as a child among other children and he is terrified by the sounds of the footsteps of the soldiers who come to kill them all; among these is his father.
Are dreams inherited? And guilt? These are the questions that lead Jesus to confront the erudites at the synagogue.
But why turn to a novel and confront the issue of dreams through the slant of fiction in the 100th anniversary of the dream of Irma’s injection, this dream, this imaginary event that somehow marks the beginning of the psychoanalytic adventure?
The choice is deliberate: the paradigmatic dream in which Freud analyzes the mechanisms of the workings of the dream, and that enable him to state that the dream is a realization of desire is also, in essence and at the same time, a dream marked by guilt. Freud dreams to absolve himself of the ills that still plague Irma. This is what’s known, what’s official. But Freud is also guilty of something else, of using the injection’s dream as a graft that replaces another dream.
We know through Max Schur, his physician and biographer, of the circumstances that provided the day time remains and the circumstances in which Irma’s dream took place: in the midst of a transferential relationship with Fleiss, and because of his theory, that attributed a great relevance to nasal cornets in the etiology of neurosis, and as an effect of a symbolic displacement, Freud had his patient Irma (Emma Eckstein, in real life) operated upon by Fleiss. After the surgery the discomfort not only fails to disappear, but is actually increased. It is later discovered that Fleiss had forgotten a piece gauze, during the surgical act, in one of the sinus cavities. The surgeon’s mistake, that marks the beginning of the end for the transference from Freud to Fleiss, sets the stage for the development of a new path: the psychoanalytic one. Who shoulders the guilt? Freud, in his dream, with his desire to deny it. But, what guilt? Freud’s… Fleiss’s.Where does one end and the other begin?
Perhaps inasmuch as desire is always transgressive, because it depends on the law in order to exist, there can be no desire without guilt, and that guilt is the engine for all that pushes Freud. The desire of transgression is the desire as transgression. Desire makes us guilty. And conscience, Shakespeare, comes later.
That other, who’s guilt Freud needs to assuage, that other to whom Freud attributes a knowledge is also the Other that has deprived us of the only dream believed to be thoroughly analyzed, one Freud had to suppress as a response to his friend’s demand. The dream that Freud had destined, chosen and analyzed to serve as an example of his theory about the dreams was a different one, not the one dealing with Irma’s injection. The only dream, that other one, that Freud believed to be totally analyzed, when was it dreamt? Which is the true date of the centennial of the founding dream of that strange structure we call psychoanalysis?
At Fleiss’s urging, because he feared that Freud might be revealing too much of himself and of his relationship with Marta, his wife, Freud gives up on the idea of publishing that, his princeps dream, the best, the best worked. In a letter Freud wrote to Fleiss on June 9, 1898 we read: “Then the dream is doomed. Now that the sentence has been dictated, I would like nonetheless, to shed a tear and to confess that I am sorry, and that I have no hopes of finding a better substitute…” In several other instances Freud would go back to mourn the censored dream, this renunciation done in response to the veto dictated by a friend, because, as he himself states, those limits should be lost to enable desire to rule and be realized, the dream’s desire, the desire to be real. Truth cannot be renounced without paying the price. The loss is our’s, the guilt belongs to Freud, for renouncing his desire, for depriving us of his dream.
The stolen dream, the one that could not be recovered in those letters that came back to us from the adventurous hands of a princess, is not therefore the original dream. And it is because of the Other’s desire, Otto’s, that the guilt also belongs to the Other. But perhaps that is how it was meant to be because there is always a replacement close at hand, a poor representative of the original. Once again we confirm that the origin is the non-originary, and that it can only be the result of a reconstruction. Anyway, Freud wanted the dream of Irma’s injection to be remembered, but we know we commemorate in it the substitution of a possible knowledge, the one of that dream, that comes to replace a knowledge that was forever lost, the fundamental dream, the founding dream.
This legitimates the role of the dream we commemorate today, the dream of Irma’s injection, and it also legitimizes turning to fiction, something that thus becomes one of the elaborate forms of the clinical experience.
We are taught this by that other analyst without a couch, Jorge Luis Borges: in the surprising conclusion of that wonderful story that is the best treaty on the ego ever written: Circular Ruins when the main character “With relief, with humiliation, with terror, he understood that he too was an illusion, that someone else was dreaming him.”
We must all be dreamt to attain existence. We are the desire of the Other who calls us into being. That desire we incarnate entails the guilt that moves us, which has no other origin that the myth that shapes the law.
Thus, in the threshold of a new century there remains the question of the role reserved to subjectivity, but beyond those surprises we can be certain that the dream, the desire (and the guilt) will not disappear.
Frida Saal, July 1995