Sunday, September 9, 2012

Track that Quote: an exercise in Depth-Philology ®

Theodor Reik, a Viennese collegue of Freud for thirty years, recounts:

Freud once smilingly said to me:  Moi, je ne suis pas un Freudiste.”
(Why did he say it in French?  It is perhaps a variation of a French quotation that is unknown to me.)
Theodor Reik, Listening with the Third Ear (1948), final chapter

A clue lies in the morphology.  The usual adjective in French is not Freudiste, but freudien.   Freud was quite clearly alluding to an analogous quote -- and in French, yet again  from a native speaker of German:  Karl Marx, who, towards the end of his life, famously stated “Je ne suis pas un marxiste.”
In both cases, these major thinkers were rejecting the excesses of their acolytes.

Naturally the philologer  cannot stop here.  Why the devil would Marx have said the thing in French?   Clearly he must be echoing yet another quotation, one which eventually must be set in a purely francophone context.

With a bit of research and some help from Google, we were able to determine the source:  Napoleon, in exile on Elba, is reported to have said (shaking his head),
            “Je ne suis pas  bonapartiste.”

Here the semantics is rather different:  The deposed emperor was not retrospectively rejecting those who followed him in his prime, but recognizing how far he himself has fallen.

Surprisingly, the trail does not end there.    Although this is the earliest recording such French quotation, it exactly echoes an earlier quotation from King Alfred (Ælfrēd se Grēata),

            “Ech nam Ælfrēdsmann.”

And there the trail goes faint:  yet it winds down through the dark ages, all the way back to Athens, where Plato was once heard to state:

            “Ego ouk eimi Platonistes.”

(We could go further, but suspect that our readers have been neglecting their Hittite.)

For further stemmatological research:


Another example of this rhetorical move;  the reference to to an influential psychoanalyst:

Kohut published a paper … that caused quite a stir.  It’s called “The Two Analyses of Mr. Z”, the first of which Kohut had done before he made his discoveries -- before he became a Kohutian --  and the other afterward.
-- Janet Malcolm, Psychoanalysis:  The Impossible Profession (1981), p. 118

This is nice -- I like this.  Kohutian.  And let us here declare -- with the awe-inspiring authority bestowed upon me as the former Editor of Pronunciation at Merriam-Webster ® -- that this word rhymes with solution and Aleutian.
Try to work it into your next conversation.

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