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On Freud's "Screen Memories"

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The concept of "screen memories" was introduced by Freud for the first time in his 1899 paper, reprinted here in its entirety. Although the clinical interest in "screen memories" has perhaps diminished in recent analytic discussion, there is much to be gained from revisiting and re-examining both the phenomenon and Freud's original paper within a contemporary context. To this end, Gail S. Reed and Howard B. Levine have invited contributions from eight leading psychoanalysts on the current meaning and value to them of the screen memory concept. These comments come from contemporary psychoanalysts practicing in Italy, Francophone Switzerland, Argentina, Israel, and the United States of America, each of whom has been trained in one or another of a variety of psychoanalytic traditions, among which are ego psychology, a French version of Freud, an American version of Lacan and at least two variants of Kleinian thought - one British and one Latin American. Their comments range from advocating that screen memories are an important, even central, feature of contemporary analytic work (LaFarge, Cohen), to finding the concept less universally applicable, but nonetheless compelling (Ahumada). The editors hope that the encounter with these creative and thought-provoking commentaries will give new meaning to our appreciation of this important clinical phenomenon and stimulate further research and clinical observation into its origins and uses. Contributors: Jorge L. Ahumada, Franco De Masi, Rivka R. Eifermann, Lucy LaFarge, Nellie Thompson, Shlomith Cohen, Florence Guignard, Howard B. Levine, Gail S. Reed, and John P. Muller.

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1 - Screen Memories: A Reintroduction

ePub

Gail S. Reed and Howard B. Levine

Although the clinical interest in screen memories has dropped out of the mainstream of analytic discussion—and with it close study of Freud’s original paper—we believe that there is much to be gained from revisiting and re-examining both the phenomenon and the paper within a contemporary context. To this end, we have assembled comments from eight psychoanalysts on the current meaning and value to them of the screen memory concept. These comments come from contemporary psychoanalysts practicing in Italy, Francophone Switzerland, Argentina, Israel, and the US, each of whom has been trained in one or another of a variety of psychoanalytic traditions, among which are ego psychology, a French version of Freud, an American version of Lacan, and at least two variants of Kleinian thought, one British and one Latin American. Their comments range from advocating that screen memories are an important, even central, feature of contemporary analytic work (LaFarge, Cohen), to finding the concept less universally applicable, but nonetheless compelling (Ahumada).

 

1 Screen memories: a reintroduction

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1

Screen memories: a reintroduction

Gail S. Reed and Howard B. Levine

Although the clinical interest in screen memories has dropped out of the mainstream of analytic discussion—and with it close study of

Freud’s original paper—we believe that there is much to be gained from revisiting and re-examining both the phenomenon and the paper within a contemporary context. To this end, we have assembled comments from eight psychoanalysts on the current meaning and value to them of the screen memory concept. These comments come from contemporary psychoanalysts practicing in Italy,

Francophone Switzerland, Argentina, Israel, and the US, each of whom has been trained in one or another of a variety of psychoanalytic traditions, among which are ego psychology, a French version of Freud, an American version of Lacan, and at least two variants of Kleinian thought, one British and one Latin American.

Their comments range from advocating that screen memories are an important, even central, feature of contemporary analytic work

 

2 - The Screen Memory and the Act of Remembering

ePub

Lucy LaFarge

Screen memories, the durable fragments of childhood memory that accompany us through the life-cycle, were felt to be of great significance by Freud and the early analysts. Pre-formed constructions that patients brought to analysis, screen memories could be seen to blend external reality, fantasy, and defence. They afforded a second set of data which, together with the enacted data of the transference, stimulated the analyst to form his own constructions of the patient’s past. With shifts in the orientation of psychoanalysis during the last century, these patients’ constructions have receded into the background of psychoanalytic thought, while the enacted data of transference and countertransference, and the constructions made by the analyst, and by analyst and patient together, have taken centre stage. A fresh look at screen memories shows that they can be seen as reflections of a private, one-person mode of thinking: one where the individual remembers and imagines on his own and the act of remembering is of equal importance with the content of the memory. In the analytic process, the content of a screen memory is often played out in transference and countertransference; and the specific screen memory that a patient recalls in a session can be found to reflect current transference developments. At the same time, a patient’s recounting a screen memory in analysis also reflects her bringing a private way of thinking into contact with the two-person mode of thinking that she shares with the analyst. It tells us something about the tensions that exist for the patient between these two modes of thought and the patient’s fantasies and beliefs concerning each of them; these fantasies may be played out in a second, more subtle current of transference and countertransference.

 

2 The screen memory and the act of remembering

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2

The screen memory and the act of remembering*

Lucy LaFarge

Screen memories, the durable fragments of childhood memory that accompany us through the life-cycle, were felt to be of great significance by Freud and the early analysts. Pre-formed constructions that patients brought to analysis, screen memories could be seen to blend external reality, fantasy, and defence. They afforded a second set of data which, together with the enacted data of the transference, stimulated the analyst to form his own constructions of the patient’s past. With shifts in the orientation of psychoanalysis during the last century, these patients’ constructions have receded into the background of psychoanalytic thought, while the enacted data of transference and countertransference, and the constructions made by the analyst, and by analyst and patient together, have taken centre stage. A fresh look at screen memories shows that they can be seen as reflections of a private, one-person mode of thinking: one where the individual remembers and imagines on his own and the act of remembering is of equal importance with the content of the memory. In the

 

3 - Screen Memories: The Faculty of Memory and the Importance of the Patient’s History

ePub

Franco De Masi

Freud’s essay on screen memories (1899a) is a milestone in the development of psychoanalytic thought and contains the seeds of a number of concepts that lie at the root of analytic theory. A huge volume of literature has been inspired by this paper.

In my contribution I shall attempt to connect Freud’s intuitions on screen memories with some of the approaches to clinical analysis that have evolved in recent decades and can, in my view, be applied in the therapy of patients with severe pathology. The new insights do not conflict with Freud’s discoveries, but complement them. From this point of view Freud can aptly be compared to Columbus: the Genoese navigator also discovered a new world, but was able to explore only a part of it.

In the contemporary literature certain schools that take up a position beyond the dynamic unconscious and attach relatively little importance to repression are contrasted, sometimes artificially, with classical conceptions. It seems to me that the various approaches should not be seen as antithetical because each may prove legitimate when applied in a particular clinical field. Specifically, I believe that theories that disregard the dynamic unconscious are applicable principally in severe (i.e., borderline or psychotic) pathologies, in which the relationship between conscious and unconscious is gravely compromised. In this paper I shall also reflect on memory of the past and on the therapeutic importance of reconstructing the patient’s personal history.

 

3 Screen memories: the faculty of memory and the importance of the patient’s history

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3

Screen memories: the faculty of memory and the importance of the patient’s history

Franco De Masi

Freud’s essay on screen memories (1899a) is a milestone in the development of psychoanalytic thought and contains the seeds of a number of concepts that lie at the root of analytic theory. A huge volume of literature has been inspired by this paper.

In my contribution I shall attempt to connect Freud’s intuitions on screen memories with some of the approaches to clinical analysis that have evolved in recent decades and can, in my view, be applied in the therapy of patients with severe pathology. The new insights do not conflict with Freud’s discoveries, but complement them. From this point of view Freud can aptly be compared to Columbus: the

Genoese navigator also discovered a new world, but was able to explore only a part of it.

In the contemporary literature certain schools that take up a position beyond the dynamic unconscious and attach relatively little importance to repression are contrasted, sometimes artificially, with classical conceptions. It seems to me that the various approaches should not be seen as antithetical because each may prove legitimate when applied in a particular clinical field. Specifically, I believe that theories that disregard the dynamic unconscious are applicable principally in severe (i.e., borderline or psychotic) pathologies, in which

58

 

4 - The Screen and Behind It: Manifest and Latent Themes in Freud’s Über Deckerinnerungen

ePub

Rivka R. Eifermann

It has become common knowledge (Bernfeld, 1946), that Freud is himself the anonymous patient in his 1898 article “Screen memories” (Über Deckerinnerungen) (Freud, 1899a). This discovery has allowed me to re-read the paper paying close attention to the verbal associations and symbolic connections suggested by this additional context. The presence in the screen memories paper of Freud, the patient, allowed my associations to extend beyond the 1898 article to events and personae from Freud’s early life as he reports them in his letters to Fliess, in The Interpretation of Dreams (Freud, 1900a), and in his 1901 paper, “Childhood memories and screen memories” (1901b).

The relevance of these extended associations to his “Screen memories” paper became ever more important to me as I realised that the memories as described in these sources were alive in Freud’s mind while he was writing his paper. Indeed, just before reporting and analysing his “meadow memory”, Freud briefly refers to every one of the personae and events in the adjacent texts I have mentioned that I consider highly relevant (Freud, 1899a, p. 310).

 

4 The screen and behind it: manifest and latent themes in Freud’s Über Deckerinnerungen

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4

The screen and behind it: manifest and latent themes in Freud’s Über Deckerinnerungen 1

Rivka R. Eifermann

It has become common knowledge (Bernfeld, 1946), that Freud is himself the anonymous patient in his 1898 article “Screen memories” (Über Deckerinnerungen) (Freud, 1899a). This discovery has allowed me to re-read the paper paying close attention to the verbal associations and symbolic connections suggested by this additional context. The presence in the screen memories paper of

Freud, the patient, allowed my associations to extend beyond the

1898 article to events and personae from Freud’s early life as he reports them in his letters to Fliess, in The Interpretation of Dreams

(Freud, 1900a), and in his 1901 paper, “Childhood memories and screen memories” (1901b).

The relevance of these extended associations to his “Screen memories” paper became ever more important to me as I realised that the memories as described in these sources were alive in Freud’s mind while he was writing his paper. Indeed, just before reporting and analysing his “meadow memory”, Freud briefly refers to every one of the personae and events in the adjacent texts I have mentioned that I consider highly relevant (Freud, 1899a, p. 310).

 

5 - The Waning of Screen Memories: From the Age of Neuroses to an Autistoid Age

ePub

Jorge L. Ahumada

Upon receiving the kind invitation of Drs Gail S. Reed and Howard B. Levine to contribute to this book on “Screen memories” two diverse trains of thought crossed my mind.

The first was realising that my earliest, and yet fairly well remembered, recollection is, no doubt, a screen memory, to which I steadfastly clung—I might have been three or four years old at the time. It vividly depicted what I assumed to be my paternal grandfather on his deathbed, with a long white beard, reclining gravely and peacefully in his final adieu. I recalled insisting time and again, to the surprise and hilarity of whoever in the family happened to listen, that I remembered my grandfather—who died when I was eight months old. Only when slightly older, most likely at five years of age, while contemplating the portraits of my two grandfathers that hung beside each other, did it dawn upon me that not only had I conflated and confused my grandfathers in my mind—the dignified bearded image in my vivid memory was that of my maternal grandfather who had died nearly two decades before I was born—but it was this portrait that was the source of the visual image in my purported memory. From that moment on I discreetly dropped the subject of my remembering my grandfather. Such contact in my childhood with the illusory nature of screen memories brought a shocked awareness of the tricky powers of psychic processes quite beyond my ken: an insight that likely nourished my later interest in the workings of the mind and may have helped lead me to a career in psychoanalysis.

 

5 The waning of screen memories: from the Age of Neuroses to an Autistoid Age

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5

The waning of screen memories: from the Age of Neuroses to an Autistoid Age

Jorge L. Ahumada

Upon receiving the kind invitation of Drs Gail S. Reed and Howard

B. Levine to contribute to this book on “Screen memories” two diverse trains of thought crossed my mind.

The first was realising that my earliest, and yet fairly well remembered, recollection is, no doubt, a screen memory, to which I steadfastly clung—I might have been three or four years old at the time.

It vividly depicted what I assumed to be my paternal grandfather on his deathbed, with a long white beard, reclining gravely and peacefully in his final adieu. I recalled insisting time and again, to the surprise and hilarity of whoever in the family happened to listen, that I remembered my grandfather—who died when I was eight months old. Only when slightly older, most likely at five years of age, while contemplating the portraits of my two grandfathers that hung beside each other, did it dawn upon me that not only had I conflated and confused my grandfathers in my mind—the dignified bearded image in my vivid memory was that of my maternal grandfather who had died nearly two decades before I was born—but it was this portrait that was the source of the visual image in my purported memory. From that moment on I discreetly dropped the subject of my remembering my grandfather. Such contact in my childhood

104

 

6 “Screen memories” revisited

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6

“Screen memories” revisited

Shlomith Cohen

“If I tell all my memories will I get rid of them?” asked a patient who was tormented by flashes of traumatic memories, of a nature he was too anxious to reveal. He was not sure whether they were actual memories or figments of his imagination, but was nevertheless haunted by their almost magical power over him. His pressing plea was that they would be erased from his mind. Could therapy be directed towards erasing or carried out while bypassing those fragments of memories? Like many of our patients he was suffering from memories that were symptoms of his disturbance. Freud had discovered already, in his work on hysteria, the connection between disturbances in memory and psychopathology, and ever since memories have taken centre stage in psychoanalytic practice. The invitation to reread and comment on Freud’s “Screen memories” offered me the opportunity to grapple with this topic and follow the vicissitudes of a major psychoanalytic discovery.

 

6 - “Screen Memories” Revisited

ePub

Shlomith Cohen

“If I tell all my memories will I get rid of them?” asked a patient who was tormented by flashes of traumatic memories, of a nature he was too anxious to reveal. He was not sure whether they were actual memories or figments of his imagination, but was nevertheless haunted by their almost magical power over him. His pressing plea was that they would be erased from his mind. Could therapy be directed towards erasing or carried out while bypassing those fragments of memories? Like many of our patients he was suffering from memories that were symptoms of his disturbance. Freud had discovered already, in his work on hysteria, the connection between disturbances in memory and psychopathology, and ever since memories have taken centre stage in psychoanalytic practice. The invitation to reread and comment on Freud’s “Screen memories” offered me the opportunity to grapple with this topic and follow the vicissitudes of a major psychoanalytic discovery.

Prior to focusing on memory, Freud was preoccupied with its opposite—the act of forgetting. In his paper “The psychical mechanism of forgetfulness” (1898b), Freud presented the dynamics of a momentary loss of a memory. The process of bringing this memory to consciousness involved not only retrieving the forgotten name of the Italian artist Signorelli, but also revealed a rich network of threads that wove this element of memory into a rich unconscious stratum of sexual desires, death anxiety, anxieties and concern about his status and performance as a doctor. He concluded that the repression of the particular memory was a result of augmented unpleasure that was attached to it. Communication of the forgotten name “from an external quarter” brought resolution of the tension and enabled the work of revealing the censored unconscious connections that was essential in working through the momentary dysfunction as is expected of psychoanalytic therapy (1898b, p. 295).

 

7 - Reading Freud’s Semiotic Passion

ePub

John P. Muller

In his 1899 New Year’s greeting to Fliess, Freud wrote: “In the first place, a small bit of my self-analysis has forced its way through and confirmed that fantasies are products of later periods and are projected back from what was then the present into earliest childhood; the manner in which this occurs also emerged—once again by a verbal link” (the last phrase in German is wieder eine Wortverbindung, Masson, 1985, p. 338; Masson, 1986, p. 370). It is generally accepted that in this letter Freud is referring to his “Screen memories” paper of 1899 (Masson, 1985, p. 339) and that the paper itself is autobiographical (Bernfeld, 1946). The latter point led Strachey to write that the “intrinsic interest of this paper has been rather undeservedly overshadowed by an extraneous fact” (Strachey, 1950, p. 302). The “extraneous fact” is the paper’s autobiographical relevance, which, to the extent it has “overshadowed” Freud’s ideas, may be said to cover them. My primary interest here is not in the autobiographical relevance of Freud’s memories as such, but rather in the semiotic features of his conceptualisations and clinical interventions.

 

7 Reading Freud’s semiotic passion

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Reading Freud’s semiotic passion

John P. Muller

In his 1899 New Year’s greeting to Fliess, Freud wrote: “In the first place, a small bit of my self-analysis has forced its way through and confirmed that fantasies are products of later periods and are projected back from what was then the present into earliest childhood; the manner in which this occurs also emerged—once again by a verbal link” (the last phrase in German is wieder eine Wortverbindung,

Masson, 1985, p. 338; Masson, 1986, p. 370). It is generally accepted that in this letter Freud is referring to his “Screen memories” paper of 1899 (Masson, 1985, p. 339) and that the paper itself is autobiographical (Bernfeld, 1946). The latter point led Strachey to write that the “intrinsic interest of this paper has been rather undeservedly overshadowed by an extraneous fact” (Strachey, 1950, p. 302). The

“extraneous fact” is the paper’s autobiographical relevance, which, to the extent it has “overshadowed” Freud’s ideas, may be said to cover them. My primary interest here is not in the autobiographical relevance of Freud’s memories as such, but rather in the semiotic features of his conceptualisations and clinical interventions.

 

8 - Phyllis Greenacre: Screen Memories and Reconstruction

ePub

Nellie Thompson

Not only some but all of what is essential from childhood has been retained in [screen] memories. It is simply a question of knowing how to extract it out of them by analysis.

Freud, 1914g, p. 148

The aim of Freud’s paper on “Screen memories” (1899a) was to clarify the concept of a “screen memory” as one that owes its value not to its own content but to the relation between that content and some other that has been suppressed. Screen memories are predominantly visual: the witness seems detached, and to be watching him or herself as a child. A screen memory may seize on a past event, or a past event may be moved forward. In contrast to their relatively indifferent or patently distorted content, screen memories are characterised by special luminosity or intensity. Freud drew on autobiographical memories to illustrate his description of screen memories.

Freud made further observations on screen memories in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901b edition), “Recollection, repetition, and working-through” (1914g), and A Childhood Recollection from Dichtung und Wahrheit (1917b).

 

8 Phyllis Greenacre: screen memories and reconstruction

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Phyllis Greenacre: screen memories and reconstruction

Nellie Thompson

Not only some but all of what is essential from childhood has been retained in [screen] memories. It is simply a question of knowing how to extract it out of them by analysis.

Freud, 1914g, p. 148

The aim of Freud’s paper on “Screen memories” (1899a) was to clarify the concept of a “screen memory” as one that owes its value not to its own content but to the relation between that content and some other that has been suppressed. Screen memories are predominantly visual: the witness seems detached, and to be watching him or herself as a child. A screen memory may seize on a past event, or a past event may be moved forward. In contrast to their relatively indifferent or patently distorted content, screen memories are characterised by special luminosity or intensity. Freud drew on autobiographical memories to illustrate his description of screen memories.

 

9 - Screen Memories Today: A Neuropsychoanalytic Essay of Definition

ePub

Florence Guignard

Introduction

Screen memories must today be seen in the larger context of the neuroscientific investigation of memory. In proposing that psychoanalysts consider the contemporary clinical importance of screen memories, Gail S. Reed and Howard Levine have offered those of us brave enough to respond a stimulating challenge.

At first glance, the term “screen memory” might appear to be only a description, obvious and barely metapsychological: a memory that presents itself as a conscious recollection of an ordinary event that hides another event, the latter being repressed by the subject, because it reflects a conflict or trauma. However, this rather straightforward appearance is deceptive: a screen memory is not the recollection of a real fact, and its temporality is completely imaginary.

If we return to Freud’s 1899 paper on the subject, we can observe that Freud explored all the details of the screen memory as if they were part of a dream. He also tried to understand the false chronology of the screen memory.

 

9 Screen memories today: a neuropsychoanalytic essay of definition

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REED PtII BOOK_Akhtar PtII BOOK 28/08/2014 09:37 Page 172

9

Screen memories today: a neuropsychoanalytic essay of definition

Florence Guignard

Introduction

Screen memories must today be seen in the larger context of the neuroscientific investigation of memory. In proposing that psychoanalysts consider the contemporary clinical importance of screen memories, Gail S. Reed and Howard Levine have offered those of us brave enough to respond a stimulating challenge.

At first glance, the term “screen memory” might appear to be only a description, obvious and barely metapsychological: a memory that presents itself as a conscious recollection of an ordinary event that hides another event, the latter being repressed by the subject, because it reflects a conflict or trauma. However, this rather straightforward appearance is deceptive: a screen memory is not the recollection of a real fact, and its temporality is completely imaginary.

If we return to Freud’s 1899 paper on the subject, we can observe that Freud explored all the details of the screen memory as if they were part of a dream. He also tried to understand the false chronology of the screen memory.

 

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