Sig Inside of a Parisian Impasse

There is no worse fate than to die in exile. No worse fate still than to die in exile in Britain. A country that seems to forget so often that it is an island, hence its isolationist policies in matters that do not pertain to arbitrarily “absorbing” other “commonwealths.” It was a fate that Sigmund never expected, even if Carl and Sabina might have seen it coming more clearly. Though Sabina didn’t make it out alive as a result of the Nazis for very much longer than Freud–which analyst’s death was more “comfortable” depends upon your preference for slow and prolonged pain (Freud) or quick and violent death (Spielrein). Jung, that squirrely Swiss bastard, lived all the way to the ripe old age of eighty-five. But we’re talking about Sig, who always seems to get outshined by his protégé eventually. His protégé who never knew what it meant to grow up in one place and for it to become another–for Freiberg no longer exists, just as the Austrian Empire doesn’t. No, Sig is told it is now Příbor, Czech Republic. Perhaps only those who lived in Constantinople can understand his pain and confusion. 

Yet there was a time when Sig himself was something of a protégé, at least during his three-month stint in Paris studying under hypnotist/neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot. Charcot was particularly into hysteria, and, in his typical French way, believed most females suffered from it. Including his “muse,” Louise Augustine Gleizes, a woman he still kept obsessing over long after she disappeared from the hospital dressed as a man (that’s what it takes to get things done, apparently). Sig was most moved by Charcot’s seeming lack of concern for money. He already had it, after all. Sig himself was not affluent, per se, but seeing Charcot go to work made him realize he wanted to pursue the uncharted path, the field of medical study that would, in all probability, not lead to great financial gain. Though it was clear fame would come eventually, for it always did in matters pertaining to putting the human psychosis on full blast.

He thought of this as he developed his own blooming theories on psychoanalysis at the hotel on Impasse Royer-Collard. For Paris was the place where his “musings” truly began to germinate and crystallize. The place where one could be inspired in all fields, be it painting or psychology (and oh, what a wide girth of neurotic fish the Seine could hold). While Freud found Parisians to be cold and impersonal (which was rich considering the territory he hailed from), he couldn’t deny his enjoyment of all the cliched haunts: Notre-Dame de Paris, le Louvre, la Comédie Française, le Théâtre de la Porte-Saint-Martin. His mind was being as enriched culturally as it was cerebrally thanks to this brief stay. 

Yet, most of all, it was those weekly Tuesday séances at Charcot’s salon that excited and invigorated Freud (well, that and the wide array of prostitutes to choose from in Montmartre–honestly, did you think Freud, the Father of Libido, was going to pass up a chance to bang himself some Parisian whores while coked out of his damn mind? “Scholarly” or not, it was still part of his research). So enraptured by Charcot’s demonstrations was Freud that he ended up putting a lithograph of André Brouillet’s A Clinical Lesson at the Salpêtrière over the couch in his office, as though to remind himself that Paris was the place that solidified his ambitions, and his belief in what he was doing–of the potential it could have for the betterment of mankind (because, yes, men were the primary consideration and in ensuring women might not be so “hysterical,” blokes would have an easier time with them, would they not?). Yet more than anything, Charcot was an example of what Freud wanted to not do in his own methods, shunning hypnosis in favor of letting patients talk freely, in that now infamous stream of consciousness manner parodied so many times over in film and TV. Charcot was, more than he could ever know, an incredible influence upon Freud in his form of anti-influence. And then, of course, Charcot had no concept of the Oedipus complex until Freud came along and helmed its criteria. 

Despite Charcot ultimately being nowhere on Freud’s level, as our self-aggrandizing Taurus soon found out, he felt himself, upon occasion, getting a twinge of nostalgia for old Pah-ree. Wondering if he didn’t appreciate it as much as he ought to have in the moment. Granted, he couldn’t deny his relishment of the constitutionals he would take in the Jardin du Luxembourg, enamored of the sheer well-manicuredness of it all–so unlike the inside of one’s mind. Maybe staying in Paris, a place of sunlight (despite the more than occasional rain) and beauty might have helped his health in some way. Then again going from a leukoplakia to an epithelioma was probably always inevitable, considering his most favorite vice: smoking. And, oh yeah, snorting vast amounts of cocaine. Yet it was a vice that still enabled him to live perhaps longer than he should, and he asked himself how he was spared the concentration camp fate that his four sisters were not. Then he remembered having former patients like Princess Marie Bonaparte didn’t hurt in terms of securing a bit of clout for his flight from Austria on the Orient Express, where no murder transpired, just the bittersweet revelation of defeat. 

On the ride toward his point of no return, Paris flickered in his mind, along with other memories past. Sensing he had little time left, he couldn’t help but be in a reflective mood as he left behind his home forever. He returned to the City of Light twice more in the wake of that 1885-1886 sojourn, once in 1912 and later, in crossing it to get to London where his exile would begin. Even cocaine didn’t seem to cheer him up anymore. It would have to be morphine now, the final welcome injections of which would consentingly end his life, thanks to the deft hands of fellow exile Max Schur. Knowing that the end would come when he wanted it, Freud was deliberate in making the final choice for his literary elevation: Balzac’s La Peau de Chagrin

It seemed cruel to Freud that the French would never really embrace him, would see through his veneer of erudition right into the soul of the damaged little boy he was. Which is why philosophers Félix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze were the first to dub him “a fantastic Christopher Columbus, a brilliant bourgeois reader of Goethe, Shakespeare and Sophocles, a masked Al Capone.” Snorting his blow all the way down the length of his writing desk.

Would he have evaded such a habit if he hadn’t left Paris, had found a way to live in harmony with the likes of Charcot and other Frenchmen? Or was his persistent need to isolate, to work alone and take all the credit his undoing for remaining in a place that birthed the concept of the symbolists? One will never know, for Freud was at an impasse both literal and metaphorical while in Paris, before finally deciding that the city was but a stopping point on his road to renown, and eventual decline and dismantling. Hence, ending up in England.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s