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On Freud's "A Child is Being Beaten"

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Presents a classic essay by Sigmund Freud, followed by discussions that set Freud's work in context and demonstrate its contemporary relevance. The contributors to this volume represent diverse perspectives from different regions of the psychoanalytic world.

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Not for Barbarians: An Appreciation of Freud's “A Child is Being Beaten”

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Not for Barbarians

An Appreciation of Freud's “A Child Is Being Beaten”

JACK NOVICK AND KERRY KELLY NOVICK

Psychoanalysis is unlike other scientific disciplines. In physics or astronomy, for instance, the work of earlier years is often at best a curiosity, but history is central to psychoanalysis, in relation to both the individual and the field. Psychoanalysts assume that we all carry our pasts into the present and constantly revise the past in the light of subsequent experience. Thus we pass on to the future both the strengths and the weaknesses of our adaptations, accommodations, and conflict resolutions. In individual analyses or in the study of our theories analysts try to see what we can learn from the past and to correct errors so that they are not perpetuated. It is in this spirit that we feel it important to continue to study historical psychoanalytic papers, particularly those that are as central to the development of psychoanalytic thinking as “A Child Is Being Beaten.”

Not everyone finds this paper important. Peter Gay (1988), the most recent Freud biographer, does not even mention it. Even though Jones described the paper as a “masterly analytic study” (1955, 308), it seems to us that he dismisses the importance of the work by saying, “In 1919, at a time when he was more engrossed with theory, Freud turned aside to publish a purely clinical study that reminds one of his earlier days” (308). Jones's comment appears in the context of his description of Freud's burst of theoretical creativity culminating in the development of libido theory. Jones seems to have felt that “A Child Is Being Beaten” added nothing to Freud's evolving theoretical formulations. We find, however, that a major strength of this paper is the very number of ideas contained in it. Freud describes the empirical base for his formulations—a series of six cases—and uses this relatively short, clinically descriptive piece to state, restate, or amplify major clinical and theoretical concepts: (1) the centrality of fantasy as the organizer of internal and external experience and as a product of synthesis; (2) the link between fantasy and gratification of masturbatory impulses; (3) the transformations and the vicissitudes of fantasy—repression and regression; (4) the centrality of the Oedipus complex to the formation of neurosis and in the sexualization of the beating fantasy; (5) the vicissitudes of memory, its complexity, and the reorganization of memory (Nachträglichkeit); (6) the importance of post-oedipal development and the crucial role of guilt and shame in the dynamics of sadomasochism, with the experience of humiliation linked to the motive power of “incompatible ideas”; (7) the incompatibility of ideas as a motive for repression; (8) the importance of the role of the father in the Oedipus complex; and (9) the unconscious effect of fantasy on character and pathology, including severe pathology, such as paranoia, and the concept of sublimation are also elaborated. Moreover, this is Freud's only paper in which the female is the model for understanding and development.

 

“A Child is Being Beaten”: A Clinical, Historical, and Textual Study

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“A Child Is Being Beaten”

A Clinical, Historical, and Textual Study

PATRICK JOSEPH MAHONY

 

Freud's essay “A Child Is Being Beaten” has elicited different critical reactions. In Jones's opinion, it is “a masterly analytic study of his experience” (1955, 308). For Bonaparte, “Freud has set more problems than he solves” (1953, 83). For Asch, Freud's essay “is one of his more speculative discourses, generalized from too few cases” (1980, 653). Whatever the evaluation, “A Child Is Being Beaten” merits our attention if for no other reason than that it contains Freud's fullest elaboration of the phasic transformations of a neurotic phantasy, features his most detailed explanation of the motives leading to repression, represents a watershed in his recognition of different developmental lines for boys and girls, proposes an explanation of masochism as secondary that is a way station to his later theory (Freud, 1924), and foreshadows the discovery of the superego (Freud, 1923).

Thus, “A Child Is Being Beaten,” one of Freud's more complex essays, has much to offer us. I shall explore it in terms of its setting, its major and secondary content, its form, and its position in the context of subsequent psychoanalytic contributions.

 

Humiliating Fantasies and the Pursuit of Unpleasure

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Humiliating Fantasies and the Pursuit of Unpleasure

ARNOLD H. MODELL

“A Child Is Being Beaten” can be read as an elaboration of Freud's discussion of perversion in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905). In that book, Freud defined perversion as an exclusive fixation on an immature sexual aim, but he also indicated that we are all perverse as children. Children are “normally” polymorphous perverse in that they consciously derive sexual pleasure from the erotogenic zones of the mouth, the anus, and the genitals. It is only at puberty that one achieves sexual maturity through the organizing effect of genital primacy. Perversion is therefore defined as an immature sexual aim, a deviation from the norm of genital union.

In Three Essays, Freud expresses the view that it is not until puberty that sharp distinctions can be made between men and women. It is here that Freud outlines the mistaken views of female sexual physiology that have so enraged feminist authors and have been used as a justification for discrediting Freud as well as psychoanalysis. Freud believed that girls at puberty have the difficult task of transferring the zone of sexual arousal from the clitoris—an analogue of the penis—to the vagina. At puberty girls must give up the active masculine mode in order to become passive and feminine. Consequently, vaginal orgasm is the hallmark of mature femininity, whereas clitoral orgasm is an immature vestige of masculinity. Freud stated, “A man retains his leading zone unchanged since childhood…whereas women change their leading erotogenic zone, which as it were puts aside their childish masculinity” (Freud, 1905, 21; italics mine).

 

Comments on Freud's “‘Child is Being Beaten’: A Contribution to the Study of the Origin of Sexual Perversions”

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Comments on Freud's “‘A Child Is Being Beaten’: A Contribution to the Study of the Origin of Sexual Perversions”

LEONARD SHENGOLD

In this paper, Freud presents conclusions and mysteries that follow from his observations of specific sequences of sadomasochistic phenomena in six patients. The sequences center around beating fantasies, characterized by Freud as “the essence of masochism” (189). His focus on these fantasies raises some questions that challenge ordinary assumptions. Why would anyone want to be beaten? How do the wishes and impulses involved become subject to a compulsion to repeat? How does this become sexual perversion? Perverse sexual masochistic impulses exist in many varieties of conflictual ambiguity. They tend to involve the promise of overwhelming, intense sexual pleasure, featured in fantasy, which in action (if allowed) can transiently overcome the usually concomitant potentially inhibitory “unpleasure”—anxiety, disapproval, and disgust.

In commenting on, reading, and (especially) quoting Freud, one optimally needs the perspective of a historian of ideas, specifically of Freud's and Freudian ideas. We have in recent years endured a flow of papers of unequal merit commenting on and criticizing Freud's case histories. Many of these are without much sense of chronological sequence, prone to condemn the Freud of the early 1900s not only for not anticipating his own later views but even for not following current psychological trends. Freud published “A Child Is Being Beaten” (written in 1918) in 1919, before many of his major theoretical revisions—of his instinct theory (Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 1920); of his model of the mind from the topographical to the structural (The Ego and the Id, 1923); of his theory of anxiety (“Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety,” 1926). He had not yet arrived at any systematic view of the pre-oedipal phase of libidinal and ego development or begun to modify his views on women and the role of the mother (see Young-Bruehl, 1988). And he had something further to say on masochism (in “The Economic Problem of Masochism,” 1924; An Outline of Psychoanalysis, 1940; and elsewhere).

 

The Scene and its Reverse: Considerations on a Chain of Associations in Freud

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The Scene and Its Reverse

Considerations on a Chain of Associations in Freud

MARCIO DE F. GIOVANNETTI

Writing about any of Freud's texts is inevitably not only a frightening experience but also a presumptuous venture because, just as in working with an analysand, our task from the beginning entails elements of impossibility, deficiency, and inadequacy. After all, when we read Freud or any other great writer, we are immediately confronted with the question of knowledge and truth, or of the truth about knowledge; in either case, we are transported into the realm of the half-said, the forbidden, and the void (André, 1994). Whether it is taken as a whole or line by line, the Freudian text is in effect a mimesis of its own subject—the human being—in that it never ceases to speak about what actually cannot be said. It presents itself in a constant state of flux, like a word forever in search of another word, like a word in a dialogue, which records the dialogue while at the same time bearing witness to the impossibility of dialogue as an entity. Like the unconscious, it is never whole, but always a part, showing by its very structure that there can be no word from the unconscious that does not break through and exceed the limits of every word that can be uttered, transforming it even at its birth into a half-word, something half-said and thus not complete in itself that, even while being uttered, calls for a new, interpreting word, one that will in turn demand yet another new word.

 

“A Child is Being Beaten”: A Seminar with Candidates from the Perspective of Contemporary Psychoanalysis

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“A Child Is Being Beaten”

A Seminar with Candidates from the Perspective of Contemporary Psychoanalysis

JEAN-MICHEL QUINODOZ

Preliminary note

In her letter of invitation, Ethel Person not only stressed that contributors to this monograph should both express “their own views” and be “didactic,” “exactly as if he (or she) were teaching a seminar,” but she also required them to discuss the important points in the text without giving a detailed account of the literature. It is in just this spirit that I have for several years run seminars enabling candidates to study Freud's works in chronological order. I have therefore drawn up my contribution as if it were a seminar devoted to “A Child Is Being Beaten” and attended by candidates for membership in our Society at the Centre de Psychanalyse Raymond de Saussure in Geneva.

In general, each of my seminars has three stages: a presentation stage, a discussion stage, and a stage devoted to contemporary clinical studies. In our actual (rather than virtual) seminars, at the end of the seminar each participant receives for his records a copy of each of the texts prepared by the participants, each text being a maximum of one page long, and a brief account of the final seminar.

 

“A Child is Being Beaten” and the Battered Child

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“A Child Is Being Beaten” and the Battered Child

ISIDORO BERENSTEIN

This essay is structured as follows:

Part 1. 1919: Freud's position in regard to both his personal circumstances and psychoanalysis

Part 2. A section-by-section commentary on Freud's original contribution

Part 3. A clinical vignette as the basis for a discussion of masochism and its clinical manifestations

Part 4. The increasingly disquieting real-world situation in which the scenario is analogous to the fantasy of the child being beaten—that of the battered child who is ill-treated most often by the father, but occasionally by the mother

Part 5. The fantasy structure and the reality structure; similarities and differences

FREUD AND PSYCHOANALYSIS IN 1919

In 1919 Freud was sixty-three years old. World War I had ended the year before, and 1919 began with the Versailles peace conference. The Allies imposed severe terms on Germany and Austria. The end of the war did not signal the end of the belief in violence as a quick solution to Europe's political, social, and economic problems. Vienna was experiencing the repercussions of social change, an upsurge of nationalism, the uprooting of large sections of the population, and increasing disappointment and resentment at the Treaty of Versailles and the economic and financial crisis. It was a time of great political turbulence, which would eventually culminate in the harsh European dictatorships of the 1930s (Kinder and Hilgemann, 1973).

 

The Exceptional Position of “A Child is Being Beaten” in the Learning and Teaching of Freud

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The Exceptional Position of “A Child Is Being Beaten” in the Learning and Teaching of Freud

RIVKA R. EIFERMANN

In what follows, I show how, in preparing for a seminar on Freud's paper, I eventually turned to viewing that paper from a specific, perhaps idiosyncratic perspective. From this perspective, I then examine the relation between Freud's 1919 paper and Anna Freud's related 1922 paper—both dealing with the same themes and written in the years of Anna Freud's analysis with her father. I argue that this relation, as well as what is expressed in and through it, places Freud's paper in an exceptional position in the corpus of his writings. Finally, I comment briefly—with reference to the above-mentioned examination—on some of the complex processes involved in teaching seminars at our psychoanalytic institutes, where, moreover, analysands-trainees interact with analysts-teachers.

PREPARATION

The Circumstances, Setting, and Participants

Analysts participating in this volume were invited “to write [on Freud's ‘A Child Is Being Beaten’] as if they were presenting a teaching seminar of the work in question.” In the following response to this invitation I write the first part of this paper from the position suggested in that letter, beginning at the point of being invited to give the proposed seminar at my institute.1 In so doing I assume that I shall describe a situation that is not unfamiliar, perhaps quite common.

 

Construction of a Fantasy: Reading “A Child is Being Beaten”

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Construction of a Fantasy

Reading “A Child Is Being Beaten”

MARCELO N. VIÑAR

Commenting in 1996 on a text written by Freud in 1919 is not so straightforward a task as it may appear. It is essential to specify our perspective if we are not merely to add to the mushrooming literature on the original work, a literature spawned by the diversity of regional cultures and the rivalry between schools and personal styles that are currently creating a confusion of tongues within the psychoanalytic movement. At the same time, it is important not to stifle, in the name of whatever orthodoxy, a reader's or author's freshness and possible creativity of approach to the oral or written transmission of Freud's oeuvre. I will try to distinguish between exegesis of the original text and the expression of the ideas aroused in me by Freud's paper. Yet there is no clear line of demarcation. In reading Freud today, one is never merely reciting his words but is engaging in a dialogue with his concerns and bringing his thought into the present. Whether our reading of a canonic text is wise or foolish, we may agree that we as author use its referential function to express what worries us, what we think, and what we wish to investigate; this inevitably gives rise to a diversity of approaches, as is surely reflected in the conception and structure of this monograph.

 

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