Friday, April 1, 2016

Lost Annals of Psychoanalysis: The Case of Flopsy B.

Note to visitors: This posting comes after a two-year lapse, the reasons for that being less important than the fact that my editors and I are back to writing.  As regards this post, we had some difficulty locating primary source material, and I apologize in advance for any fuzzy theorizing. Two songs are used: "I've Got To Sleep With One Eye Open," by Lurrie Bell & Mississippi Heat (2005) –– Inetta Visor, vocals –– which appears in an appropriate paragraph; and "Dixie Chicken," by Little Feat (1973), which closes the post.

I have no idea where the eggs come from, and I have no idea why I feel 
a compulsion to hide them.

This is a rare, possibly only photograph of Sigmund Freud at work in his office.  Dr. Freud is sitting with his patient, Flopsy B., who is narrating a dream –– a dream whose manifest content is a single image: a profusion of colorful eggs.  In Flopsy B.'s telling, the eggs are slowly swirling, like windblown snowflakes or the moving colors in a teleidoscope.  Curiously, the eggs are distinct and indistinct at the same time –– and Flopsy B. has an uncanny sense that they are both arresting yet repulsive.  She feels a strong urge to avert her eyes, even hide the eggs.

Teleidoscopic analogue of
How do I know this?

Well it turns out I've actually read this case –– which admittedly is little known, appearing but once in an unpublished monograph by Freud's biographer, Ernest Jones.

In Flopsy B.’s narration, her compulsion to hide the eggs seems, on the surface, a reasonable course of action given that Flopsy B. is a bunny, not a chicken.  She has no species-specific capacity to lay eggs and professes no interest whatsoever in eggs.  So it makes sense that she would be ambivalent about the riot of eggs in her dream –– viewing them as interesting, yes, but fundamentally a not-me phenomenon, something with which she disidentifies, something to be put out of sight.

Accordingly, her comment –– “I have no idea where the eggs come from, and I have no idea why I feel a compulsion to hide them” –– represents a secondary revision in which the illogical and puzzling is given a certain, albeit vague, coherence.  In this way, Flopsy B.'s pulsing dream-signal is downplayed, vitiated, and ultimately dismissed as a random, silly image.  After all, not every dream signifies.

Dr. Freud, however, views her comment as likely a defensive construction, comprising denial and reaction formation.  The lady protests too much.  Her statement obscures what Dr. Freud thinks may be her true desire, which is to gladly bear and lay eggs in the manner of a chicken, and to celebrate that fact through the swirling bounty of eggs and their colorful nature.  Behind her wish to disclaim is a covert claim.  Behind her difficulty seeing is an urge to look.

At this point in Flopsy B.'s treatment, Dr. Freud has not yet made this "chicken" interpretation; he remains thoughtful, silently formulating his hypothesis.  What, he wonders to himself, might bearing and laying eggs like a chicken mean?  What exactly is Flopsy B. disclaiming? or secretly claiming?

Dr. Freud then has an association to what his colleague Sandor Ferenczi calls the feminine principle –– the relatively passive urge to bear, contain, suffer with, and support –– this principle, standing in contrast to the more active pleasure principle, which emphasizes tension-reduction.  Where the pleasure principle (itself, a Freudian concept) concerns discharge of libidinal and aggressive tensions in socially acceptable ways, the feminine principle concerns modes of containing those tensions.

Fortified by this Ferenczian association, Dr. Freud eventually offers his interpretation to Flopsy B.  He tells her that, all protests to the contrary, she may in fact desire to bear and lay eggs like a chicken.  What comes to mind about that? he wonders aloud.

Huh?  That's it? you may be thinking.  This interpretation doesn't seem to add much to what we already suspect, that deep down Flopsy B. probably does know where those eggs come from, and probably does have a keen curiosity to look at what they may connote.

But here is what is significant about Dr. Freud's interpretation; it is not meant to answer a puzzlement but to tickle something not yet evident, to tacitly give permission for a shut door to open.  And Flopsy B. does respond straight away to this interpretation by hunkering down with her dream image.  Over the course of this and subsequent sessions, and via associations, stray thoughts, memories, further dreams, she gradually carries to term a single compelling awareness.

   I've Got To Sleep With One Eye Open:
   Mississippi Heat (Inetta Visor, vocal)

Which is this: the sexual union employed by roosters and hens involves a surprisingly brief coupling (about 5 to 15 seconds)*, in contrast to the actual coital relations which Flopsy B. continually experiences –– in her words, "unremittingly" –– with Peter R., her hare-brained and libidinous partner, a mate who is, disturbingly, also her brother.  She comes to realize that the swirling, colorful eggs do indeed represent a libidinal investment, but not in the standard way.  Her interests lie not in sexual fireworks and tension-release but in what comes after: the egg-bearing, the brooding.  *(An unexpected aspect of rooster-hen coitus is that for all that plumage, posturing, and prefatory strutting, the foreplay tends to dwarf the play.)

At bottom, Flopsy B. is beset by unconscious conflicts around two related aspects of procreation: 1. performing her role-bound duty to ceaselessly breed, versus her aversion to the quantity, instrumental nature, and incestuousness of coital experiences with Herr R.; 2. on-call sexual availability versus quiescent needs to bear, sit with, and care for her eggs.

Let us return to Sandor Ferenczi, a Hungarian analyst and close associate of Sigmund Freud.  Freud and Ferenczi did not always agree and their relationship grew strained over time.  Whereas the Freudian story privileged learning to discharge tensions and be appropriately frisky, competitive, and ambitious within a patriarchal social order, the Ferenzcian story privileged the containing and salving of tensions within a maternal orbit.  The feminine principle was Ferenczi's corollary to Freud's death drive: it posited that suffering and tolerance of unpleasure need not be expressions of a death drive toward an originary inorganic state, but a separate and inherent drive-like component of humans.  (For Freud, the death drive solved a theoretical problem: why people compulsively repeat unpleasant experiences, in fact or in mind, as seen in war-trauma victims, self-destructive behavior, certain instances of children's play, and masochism.  For Ferenczi, occasions of willingly bearing suffering could exist apart from, and not be reducible to, the death-drive.)

Aside from theoretical disagreements, the two men's treatment methods increasingly diverged as well.  The Freudian patient had a bulging inner life, and the therapist alleviated that pressure by staying out of the way as a real person, being instead a neutral, dispassionate figure who worked to decode fantasies and behaviors, and thus facilitate understanding.  It was all done in words.  The Ferenczian patient may also have had a bulging inner life, but it was a turmoil caused by real hurts at the hands of real parents.  The Ferenczian patient suffered not from fantasized horrors and seductions but from real ones.  The Ferenczian treatment was more here and now than there and then, with the therapist acting in demonstrative and self-revealing ways.  It was done in actions as well as words; shared and reparative relational experience outweighed interpretation and understanding.

Ironically, The Case of Flopsy B. reveals a typical Freudian interpretation (spare, neutral, "abstinent") triggering a Ferenczian response.  Make no mistake, this was a Freudian treatment –– it is unlikely, say, that Dr. Freud ever so much as shook Flopsy B.'s paw.
Again, everything in words.  But the material uncovered in the treatment was Ferenczian.  For it was Flopsy B.'s true desire to be not a boisterous bunny but a "holding" hen.  Although born a bunny, her true desire was to brood, and her deepest identifications were with another species.

Her solution? –– to, in unconscious fantasy, metamorphose from bunny to bird, a species which she associates with taking it easy, sitting around the nest all day, brooding comfortably, and communing with other hens.  In Flopsy B.’s era, such yearnings would have violated the deeply patriarchal mores of the time, mores that defined and enforced female roles to such a degree that even incest was downplayed.  If in 2016, it is commonplace for Flopsy B. to have a room of her own, a peer group of her choosing, a right to her bodily functions, it was not so a century back.

At the conclusion of Ernest Jones’ monograph he makes a penetrating observation.  He notes, almost offhandedly, that Sigmund Freud’s brief "chicken" interpretation –– a kind of quickie –– nonetheless fertilizes Flopsy B.’s insight-ova in a manner analogous to rooster-hen coitus, oviparous fertilization, and its broody aftermath (typically 21 days).  An awful lot is generated by a little bit.

Moreover, Jones continues, the treatment as a whole (the couch, the tranquil ambience, the unobtrusive analyst, the permission to freely associate) replicates a form of, and setting for, a social intercourse more enjoyable to Flopsy B. than a more interpretation-laden treatment would have provided  –– the type whereby an "expert" doctor delves into a "naive" patient's dream material, then translates it into conventional reformulations (eg., "What you are really telling me, in your reluctance to think about your eggs, is that you are in fact reluctant to explore pregnancy").

This is perhaps a credit to Dr. Freud himself more than to any specific treatment type, because in lesser hands Freudian treatment can devolve into just such an interpretation-laden examination of the patient, or alternatively, one in which the patient experiences the analyst as too remote.  Worth adding is that similar caveats would apply also to a Ferenczian treatment –– because in the wrong hands, the result is not reparation but a mushy attempt to replace early-life deficits with a present-time substitution.  Too much action, not enough understanding.

In The Case of Flopsy B., the treatment is productive.  Dr. Freud mostly keeps his distance, doesn't inject too much of himself into Flopsy B.'s gestation process, doesn't have his way with her.  The interactional edges between Flopsy B. and Dr. Freud are softened: he, sitting to the side; she, easing into a couch versus sitting face-forward on a therapeutic witness stand.  It is an atmosphere suitable for daydreaming about a nightdream.  And Flopsy B. appears to have been quickened by both the office milieu and by Dr. Freud's psychoanalytic stance, one more cock-like than leporine.  She can sink into this milieu, muse, and brood.

   Dixie Chicken:
   Little Feat

Readers, would that I could provide you an exact reference to the Ernest Jones monograph drawn upon so heavily in this post.  I saw it only once, buried in a Jones archive that
I found online and downloaded as a PDF file.  Unfortunately, and inexplicably, I can now locate neither that PDF file nor its originating website (which I should have bookmarked, but did not).  This is doubly troubling because the Jones monograph documents the only historical instance of cross-species psychoanalysis.

It seems the only surviving remnant of The Case of Flopsy B. is that photograph of Freud and Flopsy B. in his office.  And even that looks snowy.


Kit said...

A comment, via email, from my friend, Galen:

"What an interesting, arcane, and educational post. I had not heard of Mr. Ferenczi nor his feminine principle and therapeutic ways, and I can see why he and Mr. Freud developed some strains in their friendship. Cross-species psychoanalysis is also a brand new idea to me and it occurs to me Mr. Staton would be quite good at it, perhaps more so if it involved dogs rather than Mr. Hare. Speaking of which, I also like "leporine." And I betcha someone is going to find your source document in Mr. Jones' monograph, maybe even me. In the meantime, thanks for the brightening post and keep on writing. Best, Galen"

Unknown said...

Well, Kit, now you've actually done it: produced a psychoanalytical analysis of Peter Rabbit's sister and an explanation of their odd relationship. Proud of you, kid! I only wish I'd been able to do this with Alice in Wonderland fifty years ago. Keep up the good work!

louise lortie said...

Just love it Kit , one of your best post .

Edward Siegel said...

Your mind still follows strange pathways.

Kit said...

Thank you, Galen, Lolly, Louise, and Ed. My editors and I love getting the feedback. And Ed, as to my mind, it is an intermittent thing, I suppose –– couldn't find it at all this morning –– but nonetheless an improvement since those days of our yore.

Douglas Bernon said...

Welcome back to Flopsy and Todd, too

Douglas Bernon said...

Todd, your trenchant formulations considering the effects of rooster-hen hanky-panky speaks truth to power in ways that few post-colonial, hermeneutic writers are willing to touch.

Kit said...

Thank you, Douglas, for your comments. Todd, as you know, cannot directly respond –– nor Cyril, for that matter –– but I feel we are all of one mind here in the editorial room. Let me therefore speak on Todd's behalf and thank you; in particular, for your adjectives "trenchant" and "hermeneutic." (Todd is more accustomed to being thought plodding and thick, not trenchant. And while officially he is Layout Editor, few recognize his contributions to textual analysis.)

Anne said...

What about Flopsy. I heard rumors as a young child which have haunted me to this day?

Kit said...

Hi, Anne. Flopsy B. eventually broke it off with Herr Peter R., a separation consolidated by the actual death of Herr Hare. Despite repeated warnings to stay away from Mr. McGregor's vegetable garden, Peter R. had continued to go there ... where one day he was caught by Mr. McGregor and, like his father before him, turned into an ingredient in one of Mrs. McGregor's pies.

Flopsy B. subsequently married her cousin, Benjamin Bunny. While they had many children, my understanding is that Herr Benjamin was nowhere near as libidinous as his cousin Peter R. had been. So far as I know, Flopsy B. was content in her later years: her marriage was a success, she grew a vegetable garden of her own, she joined a book group, and she was active in her community, mentoring generations of younger bunnies. She never sought treatment again, either with Dr. Freud or another analyst.

Kit said...

A comment via email from my friends, Bill and Debbie:

"Thank you for your deeply thoughtful and ambitious commentary. Of course, a lesser known aspect of this case (one that Herr Sig would rather have forgotten) was Flopsy's initial opening line of "What's Up Doc?" , later copied and made famous by Bugs himself who was a devoted reader of anything that had to do with animals in psychoanalysis. SIgmund, after hearing this line (and, of course, not saying a word), must have been in "what exactly IS up here?...why am I analyzing a bunny, and, what's worse, why do I think it's talking to me ". He may also have been wondering how those colored eggs would look scrambled, which color would dominate, and why?, whatever, it somehow has to be sexual. Just think...if Freud was alive today, he could do amphibian analysis and work with Frog and Toad , or, to keep it in the mammal kingdom, Tom and Jerry...or, even take it up a notch and work with Batman and Robin....speaking of family stuff, the fact that Flopsy gets it on with her bro is not that unusual in bunny land , in essence, they were ' bunnies' , an accepted and not so well regulated practice.
On a serious note, I think I am more in line with S. Ferenczi's approach to psychoanalysis and his general idea that clients really did experience some bad stuff (not just in their minds)."
Debbie, thank you so much for your fertile association to Bugs Bunny's "What's up, Doc?" And Bill, thank you equally for your compelling and rather singular elaboration upon that association.

Kit said...

This is an email comment from my friend, Katie:

"Hi Kit - Thank you for a new post. It’s good to know that you are posting again. Your strange case of Flopsy B recalls to mind the equally strange case of Little Rabbit Foo Foo. Do you remember that one? It has been documented many times but in case you have forgotten it I will try to refresh your memory. Little Rabbit Foo Foo (hereinafter called F.F.) was compulsive , compulsive and also fits into aspects of Freud’s pleasure principle (if I understand that correctly) F.F.’s great pleasure in life was to run into the forest, scoop up all the field mice and bop them over the head. Of course, this was compulsive and criminal behavior. Along comes the Fairy Godmother (hereinafter known as
F.G.) She’s sort of like a Grimm therapist - and she is very displeased with F.F.’s actions and says to him: “F.F. don’t do that any more. If you do I will turn you into a Goon!” F.F. can’t resist and the next day when he’s at it, F.G. comes to him and once again tells him to stop or she will turn him into a Goon! Well, the temptation of the mice and bopping is just too much for F.F. and the third day he is at it again. F.G. finds him and immediately turns him into a Goon!! Oh, my.

As an elder, with some knowledge under my belt, I guess I have to summarize this sad case: “Hare today, Goon tomorrow”.

That’s it for now. Keep those posts coming."

Thank you so much, Katie. The Little Rabbit Foo Foo connection is noteworthy and clearly apt.

Comments are appreciated: