Acknowledgement of Error in Seductive Mirage

On the basis of perceived inconsistencies and improbabilities in Freud's paper 'A Case of Paranoia Running Counter to the Psychoanalytic Theory of the Disease' (1915, S.E.: XIX, 261-272), I questioned the authenticity of the brief case history he recounts therein. However, Richard Skues and Anthony Stadlen directed my attention to a letter from Karl Abraham to Freud in November 1915 in which there is a reference to a 'short communication' to which the editors append a footnote identifying this as the paper in question. In the letter Abraham writes that he was 'familiar with the case', which Freud had told him about 'in the winter before the war' (A Psycho-Analytic Dialogue, eds. H. Abraham and E. Freud, Hogarth Press, 1965: 231). In addition, one of the perceived inconsistencies (Esterson, 1998: 102) was the result of mistranslation by James Strachey. It was a serious error of judgement on my part that I failed to check the translation in the given circumstances. Though I think there is much which is dubious about the case history, it is evident that my surmise that it was fabricated is erroneous. I should add that I immediately informed my editor at Open Court that I wanted the errors to be noted in future printings.

My grounds for suspicion were twofold. It is known that Freud fabricated an individual in his 1900 'Screen Memories' paper (Esterson, 1993: 95-96). (Jones reports that to prevent the subterfuge from being exposed, Freud omitted a passage in The Interpretation of Dreams when it was reprinted in 1925 for the complete edition of his works. The 'Screen Memories' paper was reprinted in the same edition, and the dream book contained material which revealed that the supposed acquaintance in the former was Freud himself [Jones, E., Sigmund Freud: Life and Work, Hogarth, 1953: 28].) In addition, Swales has adduced compelling circumstantial evidence that Freud also fabricated an alleged acquaintance (who, as Swales demonstrates, bears an uncanny resemblance to Freud himself) in his account of the 'aliquis' episode in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (Esterson, 1993: 97-9; Swales, P., 'Freud, Minna Bernays, and the Conquest of Rome', New American Review, Spring/Summer, 1982: 1-23). I have also adduced what I believe is considerable circumstantial evidence that indicates that Freud may have invented a crucial event (and possibly an individual) supposedly recalled by the Wolf Man from infancy (Esterson, 1993: 77-93). (This supposed recollection of an infantile 'sexual scene' was [Freud claimed] recovered after four years of treatment and its belated arrival provided him with the 'solution' to the patient's childhood neurosis, thereby enabling him to complete the case history as a polemical contribution to his dispute with Jung and Adler [ibid.: 86-9].) Again, as I noted above, Mahony has demonstrated that the Rat Man case history contains 'intentional confabulation' and 'serious discrepancies' (see also Esterson, 1993: 62-67). And, as I have shown in the above contribution (and also in Esterson, 1998), there is a considerable amount of invention in Freud's retrospective accounts of the seduction theory episode.

Then the 1915 'Paranoia' case history itself contains some dubious material. Completely independently, Wilcocks has drawn attention to an inconsistency which leads him to write that at one point 'Freud is lying' (Wilcocks, 1994: 38). He also describes the paper as 'this gem of deception', a 'Victorian mystery novelette', in which is revealed 'a whole bag of rhetorical tricks' (ibid.: 38, 36, 55 n.16). While this is not evidence of fabrication, it nevertheless indicates that there are grounds for believing that Freud was by no means straightforward in his presentation of the case. It was this feature of the case history, together with the other known or suspected instances of invention, that tempted me to surmise (incorrectly) that Freud may have resorted to fabrication here. Nevertheless, none of this is extenuation for my failure to take sufficient steps to ascertain in regard to the two items referred to above that the evidence I adduced was authentic, or for my consequent surmising so far beyond the actual evidence.

I would like to emphasise that the essential foundations of my critique of Freud do not depend on his probity, but revolve around the following three points:

First, Freud's mode of presentation obscures the extent that the material of his analyses emanates from himself (in the form of interpretations and reconstructions), and not from his patients. (See Esterson, 1993: 166-168.)

Second, even employing the most liberal criteria for judging the validity of Freud's work, most of the interpretations and reconstructions which he claims to have corroborated his theories do not deserve to be taken seriously.

Third, he presented his own conjectures as if they constituted 'findings of analysis', e.g., virtually all the infantile psychosexual developmental material in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905) and in his later writings in which he applied his Oedipal notions to early childhood. (See Esterson, 1993: 33-5; 133-151.) To this may be added that the case histories (the only material we have for assessing how Freud supposedly confirmed his theses) are apparently untrustworthy. The only case for which we have Freud's original case notes (he destroyed the others) is that of the Rat Man. Here is what Patrick Mahony (who is a lay analyst and sympathetic towards Freud) has to say as a result of his close examination of the two texts (original record and case history): 'My book pointed out Freud's intentional confabulation and documented the serious discrepancies between Freud's day-to-day process notes of the treatment and his published case history of it' (Amer. J. Psychiatry, 147:8, August 1990, p. 1110).

Allen Esterson

(Acknowledgement of error originally posted on 12th February, 1998.)